February 17, 2012

Manchin Votes Against Crippling Social Security

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) issued the following statement about voting against the 10-month payroll tax cut extension.

“I want to make sure that hardworking families have more money in their pockets – but this temporary policy is the absolute wrong way to do it because it cripples Social Security,” Senator Manchin said. “I know that going back home and saying we voted for tax cuts is popular, but this is not a tax cut – this is a Social Security cut. Plain and simple. And knowing that we add 10,000 new 65 year-olds a day, and knowing that last year Social Security paid out more than it took in – how does that make any sense?

“West Virginians sent me here to vote for changes for the next generation, not a feel-good program that will last only 10 months, jeopardize Social Security and put our country another $100 billion deeper in debt. What we need – and what I've pushed for – is meaningful, fair tax reform, something our families will know that they can count on and that won't jeopardize Social Security. This bill today does the opposite – and that is not a formula for success for this country.”

The payroll tax cut extension voted on today will add more than $100 billion to our existing debt. There are no provisions to pay for the extension in the bill. 

“The so-called experts will tell you that Social Security will be all right because we’ll backfill the reduced contributions with revenue from our general fund,” Senator Manchin said. “But let me remind you that these are the same experts who have steered us to more than $15 trillion in debt – which is growing by $5 billion every business day. This is unsustainable.”

The Senate passed the measure 60-36, with five Democrats, 30 Republicans and one Independent opposing the bill. The House of Representatives passed the measure by a vote of 293-132, with 41 Democrats and 91 Republicans voting no. 

The Senator also delivered a major speech Thursday on the Senate floor about the issue. Text of the full speech is below and web video and audio are available here and here

“Politics Shouldn’t Trump Fiscal Stability” 

Feb. 17 Floor Speech 

I rise today to speak about the dire finances of this great nation, and the policies and laws of this government that are only weakening our fiscal standing for future generations. 

A year ago, I was in a Senate Armed Services Committee meeting, and the then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen, was asked what the greatest threat to our national security is. I would have thought that he would say terrorism or some other rising military power. 

But what he said was simple: our national debt. 

That was one of the most sobering moments I’ve experienced since becoming a United States Senator. I would have thought that more people would hear that and take our situation much more seriously. 

But things have only gotten worse since then. 

Our debt ceiling is at a record-high $16.4 trillion. By 2022, according to the President’s newly proposed budget, we will be $25.9 trillion in debt. That means that every man, woman and child will be responsible for more than $79,000 in debt. Our children and grandchildren will be paying more in interest on that debt than what we spend on education, energy and defense – combined. 

Our elected leaders should be negotiating solutions, but instead they’re cooking up short-term Band-Aids that create long-term obligations that will take years for future generations to repay. They’re trying to figure out how to point their fingers at the other side. 

There is not a person in West Virginia who can understand why politics is trumping our future fiscal stability. I don’t think there’s a person in America who understands why in Washington, we can’t come together on a long-term fix to our problems. And for the life of me, I cannot imagine why our elected leaders – from both sides of the aisle – are continuing to play political football with our spending, our debt and our children’s futures. 

This isn’t how we reach a solution. When I took office as Governor of West Virginia, I didn’t blame previous administrations for our problems. I took the responsibility for fixing them. And I didn’t come here to blame anyone for our problems, either. I came here to fix them. 

I didn’t come here to put the next generation into MORE debt. I came here to get them OUT of it. 

I came to serve my state in Washington because my parents and grandparents left me a country that was in very sound fiscal shape, and I want to do the same for the next generation. I came here because in West Virginia, even during a recession, we lived within our means and had a surplus every year I was governor. The people of my state are proud of what our little state accomplished, and I know Americans can again feel that same pride in this great nation. I know we can put our fiscal house back in order. 

I had those priorities in mind when I looked at the President’s proposed budget, the projected deficits, the accumulated debt over the next decade – and wondered: what are we doing. 

This budget claims to be balanced, but only if we don’t count the exploding interest we must pay on our ever-increasing debt. Including interest, there is not a single year that this budget is balanced. At the end of a decade, this budget puts us an additional $6.7 trillion in debt. How does that make sense? 

This is not the first time I’ve shared my concerns about this country going down the wrong fiscal track. 

And I can already hear some folks say: ‘Oh, there goes Joe Manchin again, blaming President Obama.’

Well, let me tell you, I’m a proud Democrat, but I’m a West Virginian and American first, and I would stand up and speak my mind whether our President is a Democrat or a Republican. I’m trying to be as understanding and respectful as possible in my critique – but what we’re doing just doesn’t make any sense to me, and I certainly can’t in good conscience try to tell the people of West Virginia any different. 

And if we don’t do anything to address this fiscal mess, the priorities of both Democrats and Republicans will face the consequences. 

Standing here, I tell my Democratic friends that we must face the truth that the very programs we care about – that we fight so hard for – will be destroyed unless we do something about our exploding debt. 

Standing here, I tell my Republican friends that they, too, must face the truth that not only will the programs they care about be destroyed, but that they may be forced to one day support a massive tax increase simply to keep the country solvent. 

Both scenarios are unacceptable – and preventable. 

There is a commonsense solution to our nation’s dire fiscal woes within our grasp. 

We already have a template with substantial bipartisan support – split evenly between Democrats and Republicans in both the House and the Senate – that gives us a starting point to move forward. As I have said before, the Bowles-Simpson framework might not be perfect, but it has more support from both sides of the aisle than anything else I’ve seen since I got here. Not only that, it’s withstood the test of time better than any other proposal I’ve seen. 

It is a framework that cuts trillions from our debt, makes our tax system more fair and raises revenue without raising tax rates. 

The only problem is that our country’s leaders – from both parties – won’t move forward with the recommendations of the Bowles-Simpson commission. 

So instead of real solutions, where we choose our priorities based on our values, we see political proposals that will only send this country further into a death spiral of debt. 

Take, for example, the fact that this body will soon debate extending the so-called payroll tax cut for the remainder of this year, 10 more months. Let’s call that what it really is: cutting funding to Social Security. 

This Congress has voted twice since I’ve been here to tell Americans that they didn’t have to meet their obligations to Social Security. 

I voted for the idea the first time around because I thought it might create or save jobs. But I don’t think we’ve seen much evidence that it has – and so I decided to stop throwing good money after bad and stop jeopardizing Social Security.  

But as I warned this fall, along with my dear friend Senator Mark Kirk, now we’re talking about extending this policy indefinitely – because once something like this is enacted, even an act of Congress can’t reverse it. 

It takes an act of God. 

Now, I know that going back home and saying we voted for tax cuts is popular, but this is not a tax cut – this is a Social Security cut. Plain and simple. And knowing that we add 10,000 new beneficiaries a day, and knowing that last year Social Security took in less than it paid out – how does that make any sense? 

Just what, exactly, will continuing this policy do to the long-term solvency of Social Security? 

The answer is simple: it will be a disaster. 

Now, the so-called experts will tell you that everything will be all right because we’ll backfill those contributions with revenue from our general fund. Let me remind you that this is the fourth straight year that the general fund has operated with a deficit of more than $1 trillion, we have accumulated $15.36 trillion in debt as of today and the President just allowed to grow to $16.4 trillion.

The same experts who tell us that we can balance a budget if we simply ignore the fundamentals of math. 

M. President, when this body votes on whether to extend the so-called payroll tax cut – or as it should be more accurately described: the defunding of Social Security’s revenue stream – I cannot in good conscience vote to undermine Social Security.  

I’ve taken this position because at the end of the day, the people of West Virginia and this nation must be told the truth. 

Which is why the budget proposal the President offered this week is so disappointing – and maddening. 

Now, let’s be clear. Both Republicans and Democrats are responsible for our budget problems. In fairness, this Administration inherited a tremendous debt, falling revenues and a terrible economy. Everyone was to blame. And the public spoke loud and clear: Fix it. But we haven’t done it, and this budget doesn’t do it. 

If we are going to address our fiscal nightmare and stop digging a deeper debt hole, we must have meaningful tax reform that not only ensures that everybody pays their fair share, but that also strengthens our economy and creates jobs. 

Instead, this budget is not balanced – even once – over the next decade. It would actually add an additional $6.7 trillion to our national debt – on top of the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling the President just authorized. That’s more than $23 trillion of debt by 2022. This is unsustainable. 

This proposed budget relies too much on phantom accounting from so-called ‘war savings’ – from a war that should have been over when its purpose changed to nation-building. 

In terms of energy investment – one area that business and labor both believe is critical to job creation – this Administration continues to pick winners and losers. 

Take the role of coal, for example. As I just pointed out in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the Administration’s own Department of Energy forecasts that coal will play a major role in our energy portfolio well into the coming decades – but this budget slashes funding for research that will allow us to use coal more cleanly and efficiently. 

M. President, this doesn’t make sense – and it puts the livelihoods of an awful lot of West Virginians and Americans in jeopardy. Those priorities defy commonsense, especially when millions of people depend on coal for their jobs and affordable and reliable electricity. 

We are spending more where we don’t need to and less where we do. We are extending programs that do not work and going into debt to pay for them – and then we wonder why this great nation faces such a dire fiscal future. 

So, if and when the President’s budget proposal comes up for a vote, I will not support it. 

As always, though, I will continue to work diligently with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to push for a more commonsense fiscal approach based on the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson template so we can finally and responsibly address the fiscal problems our nation and our families face.

And I urge the President and my colleagues to do the same. 

M. President, allow me to close by saying that I do travel my state like most of my colleagues. I meet with my constituents, and I can tell you what I find out from them. 

There are a lot of issues they’re worried about. There are some places where they disagree, but there is one issue that gets universal agreement. To a person, they are concerned that those of us in Washington aren’t listening to their cries to put the country ahead of politics. They urge all of us to stand up and do what is right. 

We must not let selfish ambitions about the next election cloud we must be done for the nation I know we all love. 

The challenge before us is a simple one. 

Over the course of our history, this nation has succeeded because our parents and grandparents left our country better off than what they inherited from their parents and grandparents. 

M. President, we can’t be the first generation to fail to leave the United States in better shape for the next generation. 

I do not intend to stand by and let party or politics destroy the hopes of the next generation. 

And I urge all of our Congressional leaders – and our President – to put politics aside and realize one simple fact. Whether we are Democrats, Republicans or Independents, we all belong to the same party. 

And that party is called America. And we will rise or fall together. 

Thank you M. President, and I yield the floor.