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Senate hopefuls still clashing over federal deficit

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Sen. Joe Manchin and challenger John Raese agree the country is on the verge of a fiscal disaster, but the two differ sharply over how to fix the problem.

Raese, the Republican businessman from Morgantown, believes government is the problem and the United States needs to eliminate a slew of federal departments and wasteful spending.

Manchin, the incumbent Democrat and former governor, believes the nation already has a roadmap of solutions, but divisive political games have prevented leaders from coming together to pass them.

Both men met with the Daily Mail editorial board Monday morning to discuss the upcoming U.S. Senate election. The race is a rematch of the 2010 special election to fill the remainder of late-Sen. Robert C. Byrd's term.

Top issues in the previous campaign between the two were their positions on President Barack Obama's health care overhaul and how to fix the government's burgeoning deficit.

Only the numbers have changed this time around.  

Raese said the nation's $16 trillion national debt now exceeds the country's gross domestic product. He said this puts the nation on the path toward a financial collapse like the one that has occurred in Greece.

Manchin has said the country is stuck in a "death spiral of debt," and he has embraced solutions suggested by National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, better known as the Simpson-Bowles plan.

Manchin said both parties are to blame for the country getting to this point.

He said President George W. Bush took a balanced federal budget in 2001 and "turned it into one of the greatest deficits in 10 years." He said Obama, who campaigned on a platform of hope and change, failed to deliver on that promise.

"I think change would have been to get your finances in order," Manchin said.

Raese pointed out that Congress had been under Democratic Party control since 2006, and blamed Democrats for adding the latest $8 trillion to the national debt.

To address the problem, Raese said Congress's top priority should be repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  

"The number one, the very first thing is I would end Obamacare," Raese said.

He said that would produce $2 trillion in savings.

Manchin said he knows the law is not perfect but pointed out that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney supported a similar plan in Massachusetts.

He said Republicans and Democrats both support expanding coverage for pre-existing conditions and allowing children to stay on their parents' health insurance until age 26.

Manchin said a blanket repeal of the Affordable Care Act would be counterproductive.

"I just think basically we have a template for moving the ball forward . . . to go backward and have a toxic atmosphere, I don't think we can get anything done," he said. "If you have Republicans and Democrats who agree on a foundation of repair, then repair it."

Raese also said several federal agencies should be eliminated.

He favors eliminating the federal Department of Education, which he dubbed an "$80 billion boondoggle" that puts too many requirements on teachers. He also said the Department of Energy should be eliminated.

The next step, Raese said, was to start growing the economy. To do that, he said the government needed to lower taxes and eliminate burdensome regulations that he said threaten energy industries and private property rights.

"Energy and private property - the cornerstones of our economy - are under attack in spades by this president," Raese said of Obama.

Manchin advocates comprehensive tax reform to stimulate the economy. He said the U.S. tax code is antiquated, hinders growth and is inherently unfair because it benefits the wealthy.

Raese said Manchin wants to raise taxes on small businesses and the wealthy to generate tax revenue.

Manchin said he favors stripping deductions, loopholes and offsets from the tax code. That would generate enough revenue that officials could lower overall tax rates for everyone, he said.

 "I've never voted and will not vote to increase the taxes; what I want to make sure is that we can collect the taxes."

Manchin also said cutting spending by the Department of Defense was a key to reducing the debt. He said that did not mean cutting national defense. He thinks too much defense money goes to private contractors rather than the military itself.

He said the United States spends more on defense than the next 14 largest world powers combined.

Raese said the United States couldn't afford to cut defense. He said North Korea was targeting Alaska with ballistic missiles and Iran was a potential threat in the Middle East.

He said he would cut foreign aid, especially to countries with hostile attitudes toward America.

"The fact that we send these countries $4 billion in foreign aid, that's where I'd start cutting," Raese said.

And while he said the Manchin campaign made fun of him for his "1,000 lasers systems put in the sky" comment during the 2010 campaign, Raese said he still supports diverting money to a strategic missile defense shield.

Contact writer Jared Hunt at or 304-348-5148.



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