October 19, 2011

Sen. Manchin advocates push for more cuts | Charleston Daily Mail

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin is joining a chorus of economists, lawmakers and government finance officials in urging a congressional deficit reduction committee to "go big" in their level of cuts.

When the White House and Congress finally agreed on a package to raise the nation's debt ceiling earlier this year, they created a new joint committee in Congress to figure out a way to reduce deficits over the next decade.

This so-called super committee is required to come up with a plan by Nov. 23 to cut between $1.2 trillion and $1.5 trillion in spending over the next decade.

Their failure to agree on a plant by that date would trigger $1.2 trillion worth of automatic spending cuts, half in domestic and half in national security programs.

But many people inside and outside the political arena are calling on the panel to go further.

Manchin said Tuesday there's a growing bipartisan sentiment in the Senate to reach for the $4 trillion goal.

"I think we're up to 44 senators, evenly split between 22-22 Democrats and Republicans, basically Republicans saying that we will support the committee to go big," he said in a phone interview.

Last week, he sent a letter to Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who co-chair the committee, urging them to find the $4 trillion in cuts.

"If you're going to do it, do it, and have the guts to do it," he said Tuesday, "and basically set your priorities so that you don't destroy the core programs that you have."

Manchin is asking the committee to use the recommendations produced by the Bowles-Simpson Commission as a guide to proposing the cuts.

Bowles-Simpson was a bipartisan deficit reduction committee created by President Barack Obama in 2010 to find a way out of the nation's fiscal crisis.

That commission released a plan late last year to cut $4 trillion over a 10-year period. The plan was quickly discounted because it included changes to politically sensitive entitlement programs.

"Basically, they could fall along the template that was put out there by the president's own deficit commission that he has not embraced, and neither has the leadership on either side in the House and Senate," Manchin said.

"It's those of us that we'd call centrists or moderates -- both Republican and Democrat -- that are working and pushing this."

The Bowles-Simpson Commission proposal included raising the retirement age and making other cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

While Manchin says he supports the $4 trillion goal, he thinks it must be accomplished without cutting programs vital to seniors and veterans.

"I've talked to seniors. They're basically scared that we're going to cut your programs -- we're not going to cut your programs," he said.

He pointed to a recent Government Accounting Office report that said the federal programs lose $125 billion every year through fraud and waste.

"If you square that over 10 years, that's a trillion-plus dollars," he said. "These are things we've got to look into.

"We've got to run government more efficiently, we've got to cut spending and we can't try to be everything to everyone." 

That included ending nation-building programs overseas in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. He said those siphon money from domestic infrastructure that provides more of a benefit anyway. 

"You help us build a school in West Virginia, you help us repair a bridge in West Virginia, I can assure you, we won't burn the school down or blow the bridge up," Manchin said. "You don't have that overseas."

Manchin also recommended eliminating corporate and personal income tax loopholes and unnecessary deductions that help create unfairness in the tax system. He also proposed reducing subsidies provided to oil companies.

Manchin's letter to the committee was not the first urging $4 trillion in cuts.

Last month, a group of 60 economists and former policy makers, including former Treasury secretaries to Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, wrote to the commission urging them to "go big."

Wall Street firms also have been asking for the $4 trillion amount over the next decade.

Credit rating agency Standard & Poor's, which downgraded the country's AAA-rating earlier this year, said the $4 trillion level would be necessary to get the nation on a path toward financial sustainability.

By:  Jared Hunt