By Mannix Porterfield
Even though he was among the initial proponents of holding up paychecks in Congress until a budget materializes, Sen. Joe Manchin isn’t sure if he will vote for it when such a bill arrives from the House of Representatives.
Manchin is a co-chairman of No Labels, a group dedicated to ending partisan squabbling to resolve America’s fiscal issues, and a strong advocate of “no budget, no pay.”
“I can’t give you a definite answer right now,” Manchin, D-W.Va., said Thursday, when the question was put to him in a telephone news conference with West Virginia media.
“I’ll wait for that debate to happen. It’s going to be a lively debate.”
Rep. Nick Rahall, also D-W.Va., was among House Democrats voting for the Republican-led measure.
“Although somewhat gimmicky, the measure will help to defuse the brinkmanship that has dominated our nation’s fiscal and economic policies of late,” Rahall said.
“The House of Representatives, at least for the time being, is rejecting the reckless political stratagem of holding our nation’s public credit hostage in order to demand budgetary concessions. It is a clear sign that sensible leaders of both parties are working to ensure that the U.S. government honors its debt obligations.”
Manchin said he is more troubled by the inability of Congress to come to grips with the menacing fiscal crunch posed by $16 trillion in debt.
In financial talks, Manchin said Congress needs to take a serious gander at either cutting $1.25 trillion in spending outright, or combine cuts with the closure of loopholes that now let corporations and individuals escape taxes.
“The real question is, how much longer are we going to kick the can down the road by not acting in our budget crisis?” he asked.
Manchin swept through myriad issues, welcoming the news that women can be on the front lines of battle, laughing off a suggestion his national media exposure signals a groundwork for a 2016 presidential run, and again calling for a multi-faceted commission to look at all points in the “culture of violence.”
As is his style, Manchin prefaced his question-and-answer session by covering a number of goals he hopes to pursue in the 113th Congress. Among them are making America energy-independent by tapping into all available sources, elevating hydrocodone to a Schedule II drug, getting our troops out of Afghanistan, and supporting the Military Child Care bill.
On the pervasive gun issue, inspired by the December carnage in a Newtown, Conn., grade school that left 26 people dead, Manchin called for experts in all fields — firearms, mental health, the entertainment media, among them — to serve on his proposed violence commission.
Manchin said he found especially disturbing the violent content of video games and films, readily accessible by children on the Internet.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I got on my laptop, and staff brought different items to me. I just could not believe what I could see, that children could log on to.”
In his travels, Manchin said he learned most teachers prefer not to tote firearms themselves, since their tasks as instructors are burdensome enough, but many schools employ “resource protection officers” to protect students.
“I don’t have a problem with that,” said Manchin, a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, which has called for armed guards in all public schools. “I talked to students that have this officer in schools, and they feel very comfortable and very safe with it.”
Manchin hailed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s decision to let American women engage in combat.
“I thought it was wonderful,” he said. “Those wonderful ladies of West Virginia, they can shoot pretty darn good. They’re straight. I would trust them anywhere, any time, any place.”
One reporter intimated that his ever-growing national profile — he recently made the front page of The New York Times — is a hint at the 2016 presidential sweepstakes.
“Oh, that’s crazy,” he said of the suggestion. “Oh, my goodness. That’s not it, I can assure you.”
Rather, the senator said, his efforts are couched in a mission of bringing all sides together on a variety of issues — from violence control to the fiscal morass — and finding solutions.
Manchin assured another reporter he would indeed support a renewal of the Violence Against Women Act.
“How in the world can anyone politicize that?” he asked. “That’s just beyond my wildest thought process.”
Manchin said the nation must remain vigilant and continue to resist terrorism, but staying any longer in Afghanistan is not an option.
“That’s an absolutely horrible war that we should be getting out of,” he said.
On another issue, Manchin pledged his support of President Obama’s choice for secretary of defense, decorated Vietnam War veteran Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator in Nebraska.
Hagel has come under criticism from some conservatives for opposing sanctions on Iran and once using the term “the Jewish lobby” to characterize pro-Israel factions.
“He has the same concerns I have, basically protecting and working with our greatest ally, which is Israel, and making sure Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapon, and taking the fight to terrorists wherever terrorists may be,” Manchin said. “We’ll have a balanced approach.”
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