Manchin seeks public input on budget
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - With the United States drawing ever closer to the so-called "fiscal cliff," Sen. Joe Manchin spent part of Monday seeking input from constituents on how to fix the country's budget problems.
If Congress does not pass a new budget plan before Jan. 1, 2013, tax cuts introduced during President George Bush's administration will automatically expire and $1.2 trillion will be cut from the budget over the next 10 years.
Speaking at the "People Before Politics" conference at the Blessed John XII Pastoral Center on Corridor G, Manchin shared his ideas for tackling the issue.
"Let me apologize for the dysfunction that goes on in Washington," Manchin told attendees. "The leaders are not leading."
The event, sponsored by the West Virginia Council of Churches, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and the United Methodist Conference, among other groups, was meant to highlight the effect sweeping budget cuts would have to social programs like Pell Grants and the state Children's Health Insurance Program.
Manchin asked attendees if they would support legislation that would disqualify seniors making 250 percent of the poverty level from cost-of-living adjustments to their Social Security payments.
"Would that be something you all would consider?" he asked, prompting a handful of people around the room to raise their hands.
"Everywhere I go, I find that's acceptable," he said.
Manchin then asked if anyone in the room believed the government should keep the Bush-era tax cuts in place. No one showed support for that move.
"You're probably afraid to raise your hand," he said.
Finally, Manchin tried out another idea on the crowd. What if, he asked, the government allowed the Bush-era tax cuts to expire, but instead of raising taxes in one fell swoop next year, allowing tax rates to gradually increase over the next three, four or five years?
"Does that make any sense to you all? I've yet to run the numbers on it," he said. "I just want to get an idea. Does that sound crazy?"
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Manchin said he does not necessarily support any of those solutions but wanted to see how his constituents felt about them.
Manchin did take a firm stance on avoiding across-the-board cuts to the federal budget, however.
"If we start cutting to the quick, there's going to be a lot of people hurt," he said after the meeting. "One size doesn't fit all."
He said the government should invest in programs that will produce a return, like education and infrastructure, while cutting other areas of the budget, like the Department of Defense.
"I believe we can cut the military," he said.
Manchin told attendees that before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the U.S. spent $300 billion each year on defense. Now, the country spends $700 billion a year.
He said the U.S. reduced military spending by 43 percent after the Korean War, 33 percent after the Vietnam War and 36 percent after the Cold War. The current recommended cuts would account for 31 percent of the military's budget.
Manchin pointed out those cuts would not necessarily affect military personnel because the Department of Defense could just slash its payments to outside contractors.
He encouraged constituents to write or call their House of Representatives members and senators to express their opinions on budget cuts and tax breaks.
"I think so many people in Washington aren't talking to people back home," he said.
Manchin expressed doubt Congress would allow the country to go over the "fiscal cliff," but he is not expecting a clean fight.
"It's going to be a bloody mess the next few weeks," he said during his closing remarks.