WEIRTON - U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin talked with area residents during a town hall meeting on Wednesday.
Manchin, D-W.Va., met with residents in the Weirton Room of the Millsop Community Center where he addressed several topics ranging from unemployment, energy independence, Environmental Protection Agency regulations, Social Security, Marcellus and Utica shale, the health reform bill and even how he intends to vote on several pieces of legislation regarding those topics.
Manchin has launched a two-week tour of West Virginia focused on "Standing Up for Common Sense," where he plans to discuss the policy challenges ahead in 2012 and the need to stand up for common sense ideas that will create jobs, boost the economy, achieve energy independence, protect seniors and rebuild America.
During the discussion, Manchin informed area residents of a letter he drafted to President Barack Obama and other Congressional leaders outlining three steps he believes will help elected officials do the right thing and ultimately refocus Democrats and Republicans alike on what the American people elected them to do.
"I've asked them to embrace three initiatives that offer all of us a chance to refocus Washington on doing what we've been elected to accomplish," said Manchin.
As a first step, Manchin asked the president and Senate and House leaders to support Democrats and Republicans sitting together at the State of the Union on Jan. 24, and then extend the bipartisan seating to committee meetings. Secondly, he asked that the president and leaders of Congress build on that momentum to hold a 2012 bipartisan forum to discuss the nation's major challenges and ways to find common ground.
Finally, Manchin suggested that in order to help Congress and the president communicate more often and more effectively, Congress should hold monthly bipartisan caucus meetings and invite the president to participate.
"Congress has a 9 percent approval rating and I can't find the 9 percent who think we're doing a good job," he said. "We can't be everything to everyone and we need to focus on taking care of business here at home."
Manchin said he believes the nation needs to have a strong military to fight the war on terror, but the rebuilding of bridges, roads and schools needs to take place in America. He said if America can't keep itself strong, it can't help anyone else.
History books, he said, don't show Franklin Delano Roosevelt handing out checks. Manchin said the government needs to serve as a partner, not a provider, and begin the process of building America back up. He said there is a great need for infrastructure of roads and sewers and this generation needs to address it rather than leave it to the next generation.
"The smallest price I pay for voting for what I believe to be the right thing is another politician voting against me," he said. "That is mostly driven by the fact that every year in Washington is an election year and things will never change if Democrats and Republicans don't come together as Americans. We need to pray we do the right thing and speak up when we think something is right or wrong."
Manchin said the payroll tax credit was extended two months in December. He said the credit reduced the contribution to Social Security from 6.2 percent to 4 percent last year and the extension for two months comes with a price- a cost of $33 billion, which he said will lead to charge fees and higher percent rates on loans through Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.
Manchin said the funding will have to come from somewhere to pay for the extensions. He said it was proposed to cut money going to Head Start programs and other programs for the poor.
"Why don't we try to run the process better instead of cutting everything down," he said. "Washington misspent $25 billion in the last 10 years, so why don't we clean that up and run the government better."
One thing he said he will not vote for is an extension of unemployment benefits unless it comes with a plan to retrain or educate those who are unemployed for another job to get them back in the work force. He said he believes the Tea Party representatives, who say Washington misspends money, as well as the Occupy Wallstreet Movement representatives, who say they have been left behind are both correct. Manchin said eventually, the middle class is going to push back and it won't be pretty when it happens.
He added that he will not vote for another extension of the 2 percent reduction on Social Security unless it comes with a tax credit for the middle class to avoid the risk of destroying Social Security, which will not be able to support payments at the current rate through 2037. He also discussed reducing the amount of money being fueled into the Department of Defense to private contractors, which are enticing military personnel away from enlistment because of higher wages for the same work.
"We've lost that human touch due to lack of communication with each other and the people," he said. "Politicians come in on Monday and are out the door by Thursday evening. How can you get anything done like that? We don't know each other. I think we should be able to have our way home paid for once a month and spend more time working with each other to get our nation back on track."
Manchin addressed several questions from the crowd pertaining to EPA regulations, natural gas drilling and encouraging residents to keep in contact with him to permit their concerns to be heard.