The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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October 15, 2013

Manchin working on plan to avoid default

BECKLEY — Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has reached across the aisle in a effort to stave off a debt default and end the government shutdown.

In a Monday conference call, Manchin said he has worked with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and 10 others from both parties to hammer out a plan that could be presented soon.

“Nothing is final, but we are in a positive position, which we’re very pleased about,” Manchin said. “There have been 12 of us meeting for quite some time. We’ve had six Democrats and six Republicans. On the Republican side there’s Susan Collins; John McCain, R-Ariz.; Mike Johanns, R-Neb.; Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.; Mark Kirk, R-Ill.; and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

“On the Democrat side there’s me, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.; Mark Pryor, D-Ark.; Angus King, D-Maine; Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.; and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.”

Manchin said the team had worked out what they believe is a good offer and shared it with leadership for the last couple of days.

“What I think this plan will do is about funding the government,” he said. “That was one of the things we’ve talked about,  funding the government. That’s one of the most important things we can do is to make sure that we don’t default at all.

“The plan should outline what level (of budget for everything outside of Social Security and Medicare) we’re going to use. I think we’re going to use the $986 billion level. I can’t give you the particulars of how long it would fund, but I think it would be at least until January or so.”

If the plan is accepted, Manchin said it would give everyone a chance to sit down and talk about budgets, something they haven’t been able to get until now.

“What we did was mandated and agreed that everyone should go into a budget conference which we haven’t been able to get,” he said. “The Democrats have a budget proposal and the Republicans in the House have a budget proposal. Those two have to start meeting. We mandated that they meet and report back two weeks prior to the debt ceiling limit again so they can have the chance to look at sequestering and all of the things that they want to change, they can do that, but it needs to go through an orderly process.

“The problem with budget talks right now is the Democrats are wanting to change the $967 billion sequestering budget and think it’s too (harsh) and too low, but it is the law.

“On the other hand, Republicans are trying to change Obamacare by de-funding it, which they can’t do. That’s the law also. The only way you can change a law is by correcting it or repealing it. It has to go through a process of repairs and appeals. That’s through the legislative process.”

Manchin said the current debt limit has a continuing resolution that will keep things running until the first of the year. A continuing resolution is a type of legislation that funds government agencies if a formal budgeting bill has not been signed into law by the end of Congress’ financial year.

Manchin says the plan also has a condition that will help medical device companies to transition into the Affordable Care Act system, also known as Obamacare.

“The medical device tax, that’s going to be delayed for two years,” he said. Republicans want to repeal that device tax and Democrats didn’t want to do anything with it so they negotiated for a two-year delay.”

The plan also has a condition that would let the government have some wiggle room with its budget in certain areas.

“We all agree that whatever happens, let’s say that the sequestering stays in place, then the federal government should be allowed to have flexibility, along with the Department of Defense, on how to manage the cuts that they are mandated.

“Once they make their recommendation, it has to come with approval of Congress. If Congress is unable to get together and agree on what they should approve or disapprove, then our plan will take effect in a timely matter so that way it doesn’t hold anyone hostage. It gives us a chance to start functioning in a proper way.”

The plan also includes some conditions that would help avoid fraud in the Affordable Care Act system.

“There’s a part in there that includes income verification,” Manchin said. “Income verification basically is to prevent fraud. It ensures that only eligible individuals receive their subsidy on the insurance exchanges so people can’t come in and fraudulently claim their income and not have proof of that. That made sense to a lot of us.”

Manchin says the plan is pretty simple and he hopes it will be something that everyone can agree on to get the government running again.

Manchin also says this plan is different than plans that have been brought up before because it almost forces everyone to work together.

“This agreement mandates that everyone has to go in and report back at least two weeks before we hit the debt ceiling,” he said. “Now that we have the chance to have what we call ‘regular order,’ that’s the way the system should work.

“This is a chance for a bigger deal, a longer deal. There’s a lot that has to happen. It’s got to happen sooner or later. This is our best opportunity to get into that. This agreement at least gives us the chance to put everyone into conference. Our main goal was to get the budget conference into a meeting.”

— E-mail: cneff@register-herald.com

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