October 17, 2014

Sen. Manchin Speaks on Government, Middle East, War on Coal in Berkeley Springs | In the Panhandle

BERKELEY SPRINGS, WV - Sen. Joseph Manchin, D-W.Va. made the rounds in the Eastern Panhandle on Wednesday and Thursday. Some of his stops were a town hall in Hardy County, Romney Senior Center in Romney, Martinsburg VA Medical Center, his new office in Martinsburg, and the Hedgesville Public Library.  He made a stop in Berkeley Springs Thursday at the Country Inn for a congressional update luncheon hosted by the Berkeley Springs Chamber of Commerce.

Sen. Manchin talked a lot about what is wrong in Washington, and the disconnect of the elected officials with the people. He stressed a need for everyone of all political parties to work together. He looked around the room at the crowd that included local and state elected officials, state and federal candidates, volunteers in many community organizations, and business owners. The audience was a mixture of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. He recognized some by name and spoke about how he had worked with them at the state and federal levels for the greater good of the country, Morgan County, and West Virginia.

“We never did put politics ahead of West Virginia. We might have differences and have fun with politics, but at the end of the day, it was all about Morgan County, the Town of Bath, West Virginia, and America. We rose above the politics. We’re not seeing that cooperation in Washington.”

He told them he asks young people if they vote or feel they have a stake in the running of the country.

“I tell them the Constitution says government of the people, by the people, for the people. Are they expecting the country to do for them without giving back? You have to give something back. When you get good people involved, good things happen. So, I’m having town meetings, going around trying to get good people involved in the political process.”

He said it’s “awful” that money coming in to support congress is driving people apart. “The money supports bad behavior.”

To some people’s surprise, he announced he wants to introduce legislation to ban campaigning against any sitting congressperson regardless of political party.

He said, “I’m asked every day to campaign against a sitting official, or raise money to use against them just because they have an ‘R’ after their name. I will not do it. I will go to an open state with an open seat. They campaign against each other, and then they’re expected to work together the next week. But I won’t campaign against a sitting official.”

Manchin proceeded to talk about a few key issues, like Ebola, the situation in Syria, taxes, and amnesty or immigration. He polled the audience to get their feelings on major issues.
He said he believes every port of entry should be checked to stop the spread of Ebola. He acknowledged it as a concern for those in the Eastern Panhandle due to the close proximity to Dulles International Airport and Washington, D.C.

He knew healthcare workers are worried and said, “All the hospitals have public dollars, so we have a lot to say in how we control it and protect the workers. The CDC should be much involved, and you’ll see a rapid change.

On the topic of immigration or amnesty, he said a bipartisan bill was passed in the Senate. “It said if you came here illegally, you committed a crime. You must go to the government and get a number and be fined. You will go through a legalization process that takes about ten years.

You’ll learn English and get a job. If you commit a crime, you are out of here. We have to shut our borders down and control them. It was balanced legislation, but everybody got scared and it became a political football. So many presidents tried to do something about immigration, and no one took it seriously.”

He said the same legislation would revoke an employer’s license for life if they employed an illegal immigrant.

Manchin added, “You won’t see anything move on this legislation until after the election. My Republican friends are afraid of being accused of amnesty if they vote for it. They’re scared. We have to put the politics aside for the country.”

Moving onto Syria and the Middle East, he said at one time he was for having troops in Syria, but not now. Even though Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, and Bashar al-Assad of Syria were barbaric dictators, he believes that part of the world doesn’t understand any other type of leader, and the different factions won’t work long with us before they turn against us or so-called allies. He wants to see more Saudi Arabian and Jordanian troops on the ground.

He said, “We’ve been there 13 years, spent $2 trillion, and lost almost 7,000 Americans. We injured or maimed 55,000 more. We’ve given our blood to liberty.”

He said his friend Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, and he now have different views. “I told him West Virginians aren’t afraid of a good fight. WE like to fight to keep in practice if there isn’t a big one. But, we’re not insane.”

The audience seemed split on whether to send ground troops to Syria.

Briefly, he talked about the veteran’s administration controversy and said he was glad it wasn’t a problem in W.Va. He cited eight-day turnaround in Alaska of veteran concerns. “They don’t have one V.A. hospital,” he said. “They use public health centers. We want veterans to be able to use the most available healthcare center as quickly as possible. Those are democrats and republicans working together on those issues.”
The number one problem in America he said was our finances. He said Republicans and Democrats are all at fault. The audience agreed the tax code must be simplified to make it fairer across the board with fewer loopholes, and tax breaks should be given to small businesses.
Manchin said, “The Bowles-Simpson plan was a bipartisan plan to fix it. I fought the President for not grabbing onto that.”

Manchin cited the “real war on coal.” He disagrees with the President on his energy policy and said they’ve had several conversations. When Pres. Obama was a state, then a U.S. senator and he was governor, he said they worked together on energy issues. But after Obama became president, Manchin said the dialogue shut down.

“I disagree with the President. The EPA is overreaching. Government should work with you, not against you. And about coal. . .coal will be used for 30 or 40 years whether you like it or not. We hear about the global climate, not the American climate. The U.S. burns less than one billion tons, but in this country they’ve got you believing coal causes all the problems.  They know if we stopped burning all the coal tomorrow, it wouldn’t change the world climate two-tenths of one percent. So if the President is serious about fixing the global climate, let’s look at a global fix. You don’t need a carbon tax. You need a carbon fix.”

Topics of discussion during the Q and A were Manchin’s keynote points, minimum wage laws, education, and conservation, among others.  Some of those present raised their hands for a hike in the minimum wage. But, Manchin said it should be graduated, not raised to $10.10 overnight. And, there should be adjustments for age. He said he’s working with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to find a middle ground with Republicans.

Del. Daryl Cowles said when Manchin was governor, he was there to lead the congress or committees, spurring them on to fix things in contention. Cowles said he’s not seeing that in Washington, referencing Pres. Obama.

Manchin said, “I’m not seeing good leadership on either side of the aisle, but you are right that good leadership starts at the top.”

One person asked him his thoughts on the Common Core curriculum. He said he had to fight the school system in his own county for not testing the kids. He was told if they had perfect attendance, so everything was alright. He said, “A bump on a log could have perfect attendance.”
He said he believes in Jeb Bush’s push of common Core and in testing children to see what they’ve learned.

Manchin said he took a hit for believing in year-round school. But, he said he’d been around the world, and seen how the kids in countries like China take frequent short breaks then “go right back at it” and retain more of what they learned.

Ann Beckley of the Morgan Arts Council complained about spotty cell coverage and problems with Frontier communications and internet service. She disliked having only one major provider of internet service. “I was in rural Indonesia recently,” she said, “And I had perfect Wi-Fi and cell use. There’s no competition here. What is Washington doing to encourage building infrastructure to upgrade wiring and equipment?”

Manchin asked if everyone felt the same way, and the crowd roared. Others said the county was trying to solve the cell dead zones. Just before he left, he vowed to look into the problems with Internet and cell coverage.

By:  Tricia Strader