The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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January 3, 2013

Manchin: Cliff avoided, but bigger cure needed

Taking his cue from a Clint Eastwood epic, Sen. Joe Manchin views the cliff-avoiding fiscal measure as critical but an example of “the good, the bad and the ugly.”

What is needed, Manchin told West Virginia reporters in a Wednesday telephone news conference, is for Congress to put aside the squabbling and come to grips with the vast overhaul needed to right America’s financial ship.

And to get there, Manchin says nothing is sacred, including social programs, taxes or off-shore concealment of profits.

“This was one of the most difficult votes I ever took,” the Democratic senator said.

“I thought about it long and hard. When it came down, I was determined to make sure hard-working West Virginians didn’t face the worst aspects of the cliff — having all their rates raised. This deal is the good, the bad and the ugly.”

One good quality is that 99 percent of his constituents aren’t going to pay higher taxes, he said.

But the “bad” quality is seen in the failure by Congress to address the entitlement reforms and spending cuts to reverse the freefall in debt, Manchin said.

“The ugly is we’re going to be back in this position again in about two months,” the senator said.

Manchin vowed to push for spending cuts, saying the country cannot afford to add $1 trillion in the deficit each year and sustain itself on a $16 trillion debt that is climbing.

As it stands, Manchin said the “cliff bill” saves about $3 trillion — $900 billion in cuts via the Budget Control Act, $1.2 trillion in sequestering in a two-month extension, and $700 billion in the revised tax rates that affect those making over $450,000 a year.

Repairing the fiscal morass is to be “the top priority” of the 113th Congress, he said, emphasizing that everything should be on the table.

Asked where to make the cuts, Manchin gave no indication but said he doesn’t see how additional taxes could be imposed.

“You have your entitlements — the social programs, Medicaid, Social Security and Medicare,” the senator said.

“You’ve got to look at how you can preserve those but also knowing we could run them more efficiently.”

In a single year, he said, some $115 billion surfaced in waste, fraud and abuse that amounted to overpayments, and a decade, that, if gone unchecked, would be $1 trillion of wasteful spending.

“You can see there’s an awful lot of ways to go about this without being draconian,” Manchin said.

Manchin said he wouldn’t support any cuts in monthly benefits to recipients, but at the same time noted that one who invests $150,000 in Social Security over a lifetime winds up pocketing $350,000 and asked, “How do you adjust that?”

In every Town Hall meeting he attends, Manchin said invariably “90 percent of every room I walk into people believe that somebody is getting something they shouldn’t.”

“Before you throw the baby out with the bath water, or mama off the bus, you ought to see if you can work it a little better and make it more efficient,” he said.

Manchin has been campaigning ever since he arrived on Capitol Hill to put the nation’s financial house in order.

“The cliff was not an option,” he said.

“It would have thrown so much fear into the markets. It would have been devastating.”

Over the long haul, however, Manchin said reforms must come on many fronts, telling reporters, “We can’t continue to raise this debt ceiling unless we have a long-term fix.”

Besides looking at ways to tighten social programs, Manchin said Congress must also look at the corporate world.

“How many people are hiding off-shore accounts?” he asked.

“Trust me, every rock is going to be turned over to look underneath to see if there’s anything hiding there. How many people are abusing, whether it be the welfare system, the Medicare system, the Social Security system? They’re going to be talking about everything.”

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