May 26, 2017

We must craft a true bipartisan budget that puts Americans, West Virginians first | Register Herald

Here in the Mountain State, we don’t expect any handouts. We work hard for what we have, and we’re proud to do so. I’ve always said that the federal government should be a strong partner in that work – not our sole provider, but our partner.

I have the honor of serving on the Senate Appropriations Committee, where I have the unique opportunity to fight for investments in West Virginia every day. So when the president was drafting his new budget earlier this year, I reached out to him to underscore the vital importance of a number of programs, services and entities funded by the federal government that help keep the Mountain State strong.

That’s why I am so concerned with the president’s recently announced budget proposal for next year, which will balance the budget in 10 years — but at the cost of $274 billion dollars that many Americans and West Virginians count on in so many ways. While I firmly believe that the national debt is one of the greatest threats facing this nation, I do not believe in cutting investments to the values and principles that make this nation the greatest country on Earth.

My grandmother, Mama Kay, was always helping our neighbors and taught to us to help others. She was constantly taking in people who were down on their luck and gave them a hand up, not a hand out. That’s what we should be doing for our fellow citizens. That’s why we must continue to take care of our children and help those in need; strengthen our economy and create jobs; keep our promises to seniors and veterans; preserve national security; and invest in infrastructure and energy independence.

The support that our state receives from the Appalachian Regional Commission is crucial to our regional development. However, this budget would eliminate the commission altogether. Instead of providing funding for projects such as regional development and planning programs, and grants aimed at helping small towns in depressed counties develop tourism, build rail links, expand airports, fund local health departments, erect city parks and amphitheaters, construct access roads, and improve water systems, this budget requests a mere $26.7 million to conduct an orderly closeout of the agency.

In January, Marshall University received two grants, each over $1 million, to fund research programs in coal impacted counties. Earlier this year, the United Mine Workers of America received a $1.2 million grant to fund workforce retraining and job placement services in counties in southern West Virginia affected by the decline in the coal industry. The budget also completely eliminates the Rural Economic Development program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which serves West Virginians through 11 state offices providing grants for family housing, rural energy audits, development assistance, water and waste disposal loans and grants, and business and industry loans.

At this time, we shouldn’t be cutting funding to these important programs – and we especially shouldn’t be eliminating entities charged with expanding our state’s economy. Rather, we should be strongly investing in regional development and infrastructure to boost our economy and help retrain workers who have been left behind by a declining industry. I will do everything in my power to prevent these cuts that help support West Virginia workers, families and communities.

In the coming weeks, a budget must be negotiated by first bringing all parties to the table, where we should focus on an open and honest discussion of the choices we must make as a nation. As I have done throughout my career, I am willing to work with anyone from any party to set our priorities, cut waste and redundancy, and rein in out-of-control spending. And, while no single Senator, Representative or even President can be expected to have all the answers, we as a nation just can’t afford months of political posturing that will delay the hard work the American people demand of us.

I am hopeful that, when we come together, we will craft a budget proposal that reflects a true bipartisan agreement that puts commonsense priorities for Americans and West Virginians first.