In advance of next month’s General Election, The Register-Herald invited all candidates on the ballot for U.S. Senator, U.S. House of Representatives, Governor, State Supreme Court, Attorney General and Agriculture Commissioner to appear before our editorial board. We are featuring those interviews through the end of this week. Today’s candidate is incumbent Democrat Joe Manchin running for U.S. Senate.
America’s debt has now exceeded $16 trillion and yet Congress has been unwilling to tackle this. Just how serious is the debt? Are we on the edge of bankruptcy? What is it going to take to end the bipartisan bickering and get the country on the road to recovery?
MANCHIN: Let’s look at the debt. We know it’s for real. I brought Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson to Charleston. You were there. I think it was a very enlightening and educational forum. It was done in a way that everyone could understand it. So it is for real. Whatever pet concerns you might have, and we all have a special interest, whether it be educational, whether it be Headstart, whether it be seniors issues, whether it be the military, and whether it’s education, whether it’s veterans, everything you might hold dear and believe that government has a responsibility — infrastructure, roads, water and sewer — everything is in jeopardy. When they explained, as you recall, we only have enough cash flow to pay for three things, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, our social needs. Everything else we do is with borrowed money. Everything. So everything else I just mentioned to you we borrowed money to pay for it. The greatest analogy is, we signed a treaty in 1979 to defend Taiwan against mainland China. The only problem is, if we have to fulfill that promise, we have to borrow money from China to defend Taiwan against China. And that shows you how ludicrous it is to get ourselves in this position. So, yes, I did not vote for this continuing resolution. This is the 13th continuing resolution since I’ve been there. It basically gives Congress the ability to spend money, a cap for this period of time, since we don’t have a budget and haven’t passed a budget in three and a half years. I cannot comprehend. I’ve not been in this environment. Some governors have a constitutional mandate to balance the budget and you’ve got to make it work. The first thing you ask is your revenues. You look at what revenues you anticipate having and you try to keep your expenditures within that parameter. We’ve been accumulating trillion dollar deficits every year. This will be the fourth year in a row. And I’ve told people, if you want to blame the Republicans, there’s plenty of blame. If you want to say George Bush, basically, we declared war twice and never paid for it. We cut taxes twice without the consideration that we needed the revenue. So, the last balanced budget was under Clinton and we went $8 trillion in debt in an eight-year period. Fine. Lot of blame there. The Democrats took it and haven’t made it better. We’ve gone $5 trillion in a four-year period of time. So you follow me? They’re saying, we needed to do this because we had to stop us from falling in a deep depression. The bottom line is, you’re not going to fix it by blaming the Republicans, nor blaming the Democrats. You’re going to fix it by rising to the occasion as an American, saying, listen, this is our challenge and it’s going to hit Dec. 31 of this year. December 31 of this year the Bush tax credits go off. That’s $3.8 trillion. You have sequestration, which kicks in. That means guaranteed cutbacks, discretionary, non-discretionary. That’s $1.2 billion. You’re at $5 billion and going there. That’s the swing that will happen and they say we can’t take the swing all at one time. That would be the reason for us to basically come to a grand bargain. The grand bill needs to be the Bowles-Simpson template — cut expenses, have a fair revenue package that has taxes that are fair and then basically reform entitlements. You can’t do it with one. You can’t do it with two. It’s going to take a broad approach. Yes, it’s for real. And I’m concerned.
We go back Nov. 13 and all they do is extend it. And if they extend, and I have been a stickler on this, I would not vote for this last continuing resolution, which we just voted on that brought us home, because they extended that to April 1, six months. I said if you’re serious about fixing the problem, extend that continuing resolution until to the end of the year. That will keep us here and make us work to come to an agreement, because the consequences are so grave. If they just completely continue to move it out, I think the markets will suffer greatly and we’ll all be hurt. So I’m fighting it. I’m trying to bring people together. We have about 40 senators — 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans — that are working together, willing to sign. We need 60. And that’s the problem. We’ll see how this election plays out and I hope whoever is the new president, the first thing they say on election night, whoever that may be, whether it’s President Obama, or whether it’s a new president, Romney, that they say, “Tomorrow, we say, Day One, we fix the finances of this country and that’s No. 1 and foremost.” Because we can’t do anything else if you can’t pay for it. So, I’m serious about it. It is for real. I’m concerned. But I’m optimistic that we’ll fix it.
Given the accelerated pace of violence in the Middle East, particularly with the murder of our ambassador in Libya, should America change its policy on foreign aid? Are we sending money overseas that falls into the hands of terrorist organizations?
MANCHIN: That’s been a big debate. That was Rand Paul who had a filibuster on that. First of all, his amendment simply said this, we should withhold aid to Pakistan. Supposed to be our ally. I’ve always said this, if we had any more allies like Pakistan, don’t look for any enemies or wars. Because it’s horrible. With that being said, with them having a nuclear weapon, with them having basically the whole Khyber Pass which (serves as the route for) most of our equipment to feed our military and provide equipment for our military, we have to work with them. We’re held hostage there. The amendment was simply this, should we, the United States, tolerate allowing an allied country such as Pakistan, and they have imprisoned the doctor who basically helped Americans find Osama bin Laden, the greatest terrorist the world has ever known, and we should withhold aid. I supported that. It made all the sense in the world. An ally has to be treated and act like an ally. Then he brought it out to basically say that anybody who has an uprising such as Benghazi and Libya and we should withhold money. It makes sense at first blush. Then you listen to the other side. When the vote came down, there was like 70 or 80 votes against it. Because what would have happened, let’s say a terrorist group organizes an uprising and by law we have to retaliate and hold money. It just causes more of a division. So the Department of State says wait a minute, let’s make sure that we verify that it was a government sanction, that means the government is supposed to be our ally, did not work as an ally and the government really promoted this. But if it was a rogue country coming in and a perfect example of this is Israel. Israel called us and said, please don’t vote for that the way it has been written. And the reason Israel said it, let’s say the Palestinians come out and picket the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. You’re going to retaliate against Israel and it was instigated by Palestine. You follow me? So, it had to be verified. Yes, I believe that we need to have more sanctions and more expectations and more marks that we have to reach in order to be an ally in good standing to receive this support.
You wanted to elaborate on the war in Afghanistan and how it ties in with the question on foreign aid?
MANCHIN: Every time that we’ve been talking and what you’re hearing and especially my colleagues and friends on the Republican side, are defending the Department of Defense and saying we cannot afford cutting back. So you remember the sequestering, those automatic cuts that are supposed to go in if we don’t fix the finances, the $600 billion? And the $60 billion would be in the Department of Defense, and in on discretionary, which would be all other functions we have for everything? They’re saying we can’t do it. It would weaken our country and weaken our Department of Defense and weaken the defense of our nation. That to me is complete B.S. And the reason I say that is this, if you look at where we were in early 2001, about over $300 billion in DOD spending, we’re over $650 billion a year. We had two wars we didn’t pay for so we have all this money we spent. During that period of time, that $650 billion, over half of that money goes to contractors. Now, the thing I have against contractors is we cannot even get an audit. So, myself and Sen. Tom Coburn R-Okla., put a piece of legislation that demanded we would have an audit by the DOD of the contractors, what they’re paying them, what they’re there for. We can’t find them. But we know it’s wrong. And the reason I know it’s wrong is because we were over in the Middle East. I’ve been there twice and Tom’s been there, too. And, also, I’ve talked to a lot of the soldiers that are moving back and forth. And lot of these private contractors were military prior to their retirement. They do their minimum tour of duty, whether it be six or 10 years. They get their specialty ratings and then go work for a private contractor that pays them double, three or four times more. And I’ve asked them point blank, Are you military? Yes, I’m ex-military. Would you have stayed in the military if you did not have this lucrative job to go to? Probably, yes, I would have. So 90 percent of them said, yes I would. I love defending my country. I love the military. But if I can make this kind of money tax-free going over there on a foreign land, I’m going to take it. And they do. And I say that doesn’t make sense. Makes no sense at all. No sense at all. So, I said we cut back $60 billion a year, that’s $600 billion in 10 years, and still that would be more money than 15 of the top nations in the world spend on military. We’re still more than that. And the bottom line is that they’re fighting that. And that’s wrong. You can increase your support to the men and women in uniform. You can increase the presence of your National Guard that has the readiness force you need as you ramp up and ramp down. And do it with the people that are committed totally and not for hire-for-profit in the private sector.
Infrastructure remains a critical need because without it, commerce cannot thrive. Where is the money going to come from to repair and replace our roads and bridges?
MANCHIN: Well, during the so-called stimulus back in 2009, all the governors had met in Philadelphia in 2007. At the time we met, I think it was 45 or 47 of us, we all unanimously went back and reported to the president, George Bush at the time, that we needed to have an infusion for infrastructure. Our infrastructure was crumbling. The average water line, they were telling us at that time, in most of our major cities, was about 80 years old. So we had serious problems all over. We looked back in history. FDR did it. In the Great Depression, he basically started rebuilding — WPA, CCC, the Tennessee Valley Authority, all the different things. Then you had Eisenhower did it in the 1950s with the Interstate system, 40,000 some miles of an Interstate system. So we knew it worked. History has proven that puts people back to work. We never got that when the stimulus kicked in by 2009. The majority of it went to support the government than it did to a smaller portion. And there are a lot of theories on that. But I think when they start looking at the fabric of our society, it was so intertwined with government, and you can say we’ve become more dependent. Everyone had become more dependent. So most of the money, when they got done, had to go there to prop that up because of the domino effect it would have. So did we get the bang? No, we didn’t. We didn’t get the bump or the bang.
I think infrastructure is where the majority of it should have gone. Where is it going to come from? There are certain things government can do with its money. Government can either spend your money or it can invest it. We’ve spent way too much money in this country and got very little in return. Infrastructure is an investment. We’ve never gone wrong on infrastructure.
Is it time to consider an increase in the federal gas tax?
MANCHIN: They’ve looked at that. And I think one of the Bowles-Simpson recommendations was a gas tax increase as you recall. I think it was 15 cents. It would be so hard with the situation that we have right now because of the gas prices. And nobody that I know politically is going to say, oh, yeah, go ahead and do it. So what you have is, what resources can you do?. There’s going to have to be ways of public-private partnerships. That’s where it’s going to come as far as the development that we need. I would try everything. But the federal government is looking at every way, shape or form they can because of the less use, the higher cafe standards and next, what, five years or so, it will be 50 miles per gallon? So you have all that going then. You have fewer gallons being used. There’s going to be other methods for resources we might have to make sure we’ve got money come in for. But to put 15 cents a gallon right now, at $4 a gallon, I don’t know if anybody could stand that or would think that would be prudent to fix the problem.
The so-called “war on coal” by the EPA has purportedly cost West Virginia thousands of mining jobs. Is that a real war or is it just political and industrial rhetoric? If it is, what can you do personally to convince the EPA to take a more moderate approach, specifically by encouraging the EPA to consider the impact on jobs with regulatory procedures?
MANCHIN: First of all, I introduced a bill which is jobs scoring. Anything that has any impact on jobs or the economy, any rule or regulation, has to be scored the same. We score money. We can tell you how much a bill is going to cost. Or if it’s going to save, and they always put a financial note on a bill. So, I said, why don’t we put a jobs score? Tell me how many jobs, how many lives you’re going to affect by a regulation or a rule. That was the first thing to make people conscious. Yes, the war on coal is real from this administration and from this Environmental Protection Agency. When I was governor, in the Department of Environmental Protection, I had to have people that understood that we were trying to be partners. We wanted to work with you. We wanted you to comply with environmental rules that we have and we wanted to make sure they were reasonable and attainable. And if was something that could not be done, tell us why. If there’s something that could be better, and if you didn’t want to comply at all, you shouldn’t be in business in West Virginia. But we would work with you. This administration has taken the position that they are passing rules and regulations that have not been legislative. And I have been fighting that. I sued as you recall, when I was governor when I was leaving, under the 10th Amendment on the condition that says you could not overstep the boundary or take privacy or regulations that we haven’t legislated. And that’s where I fought. But we won that in court. We won three.
This country cannot make it without coal. We know that. They know it. What they’re trying to do is raise the price of electricity that’s being coal fired to the point that it makes all the other ones that they would like to have look more reasonable. Right now, we don’t have that technology. We have not spent that technology on coal that we should be spending for the environment. We have cleaned up the environment more with scrubbers and we can do even more. But when you have a government working against you, I’ve said this, I can fight the market forces. We’ve been up and down. We’ve had to ride that out before. The market can be good, it gets bad, then you wait and it comes back. Now, what happens, the market was good for about five or six years, it comes down. But when it does come down, the EPA has come on with a vengeance. So they increase the costs in this field of coal production to the point that people cannot wait for the market to rebound. We’ve lived through the market’s ups and downs, but never at a time when the government was working against us too. So, I’ve been doing everything humanly possible. As you know, I brought to West Virginia Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and one of those two will be the next chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. They’re both every good friends of mine. They understand. Brought them to the state that we’re all in. We do everything — renewables — we do it all. And we’ll do it in the confines of the environmental act, the water and clean air. But I said you’ve got to work with us. I think we’ll have an all-in policy. I’m more optimistic now that the changing of that committee is going to change, the staff will change, which gives us a chance to have a policy that makes us more secure as a nation, less dependent on foreign oil and using the resources we have. Coal is in abundance. There’s been almost 8 billion tons of coal burned last year in the world. The United States of America burned less than a billion tons out of eight.
Obamacare, good idea, or bad idea?
MANCHIN: There’s not a person who I ever talked to who doesn’t believe we have to have health care reform, whether you like it not. Is it a perfect bill? Absolutely not. I wasn’t there when they put it together. They did some things I thought were absolutely wrong. We spend more money than anybody in the world on health care for our citizens. On a per capita basis, we spend more than anybody. With that, the results are this: we rank anywhere between 35th and 45th in every category of wellness, in longevity. So money doesn’t fix the problem. How are we spending the money? You have to start looking. How do you get the results? And money is not going to fix it. So you need to be able to contain costs and get better care. And the whole premise about having a health care bill, some people believe in universal. Everyone should be automatic if you live in certain countries, like Canada, you got health care. The premise is more people that have health care accessibility will be healthier. If they’re healthier, they’re cheaper. If it’s cheaper then it’s a less straining on all of us. That’s the premise, if it works. The funny thing about this one, I think it should be and have said, this is what we’ve got right now, whether you like it or not. I wasn’t there when they voted for it. But this is what I got when I got in as a U.S. senator. Do I want to repeal because of what the problems are, get rid of it? Well, that’s fine. If you’re in that category, tell me what you’re going to replace it with. You’re either going to be in denial and say, I don’t think there’s a health care problem. Every thing was just fine the way it was and we’re going to live with double digit inflation in health care, which is going to ruin this entire country. Or, you’re going to say I’ve got something better, here it is. So, no one said this is what I’m going to replace it with, just repeal it. My category is this, repair what you’ve got.
Why do you believe West Virginia should have you in the U.S. Senate?
MANCHIN: First of all, born and raised in West Virginia. Been a business person all my life. Was 35 years of age before I even got in the public arena. So it’s not like it’s something that is my professions. But the bottom line is I have had every opportunity to learn at different levels. House of Delegates, two years. State Senate, for 10 years. Secretary of state, four years. Governor for six years and now being a U.S. senator for two years. So, I really, truly believe that the people have allowed me to learn my state and learn every segment of my state and every sector of my state and every person’s hardships and contributions and assets. And with that, I’ve always said, that we’re better. And I believe in my state sometimes more than they might believe in themselves. And we’ve proven that when I was governor that we could fix our financial house and have one of the third best economies and basically be in better financial shape to weather a storm and we did that through the hard economic times. I eel like I could take that experience to the U.S. Congress, being a senator, and share that and I have done that. The other thing is that I’ve been voted the most centrist senator in there. I’m right in the middle. The Democrats cannot count on me just because it’s a Democrat vote if it doesn’t make sense for West Virginia or my country. And the Republicans can’t count on me either. But what they can count on is to come to me and talk to me and show the facts or what would fix this country and repair the problems. And that’s what you have to have. That mentality has to be — are you willing to sit down? Do you think you have all the answers? And if your personality is such that you’re saying, listen, if you’ll explain to me what we’re trying to do and how you can do it, we can meet halfway through this. We’ll get it worked out. I think we’re on the right direction. I’m optimistic about fixing the country. I’m realistic enough to understand that we’re all going to have to sacrifice to do it. My father gave me a better country than his father gave to him. My grandfather gave my father a better country that he inherited when he came to this country. And the bottom line is, I want to make sure that I give my children and grandchildren and your children a better country that we got and we’re going to have to work overtime right now to make that happen. And I’m proud to do that.