WEIRTON - U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., says time is running out for a dysfunctional Congress to fix what ails America.
Manchin told Weirton Rotarians, meeting Wednesday at Williams Country Club, that federal lawmakers "are playing Russian roulette with a loaded gun."
"This is not the time for partisan politics," he said. "Nov. 6 (Election Day) will come, on Nov. 7 life moves on and by Nov. 13 we go back into session. We'd better have our act together."
TALKS TO ROTARIANS — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin told Weirton Rotary Club members on Wednesday the nation’s economy is at risk if Congress doesn’t find a way to reduce America’s $16 trillion debt. - Linda Harris
Manchin characterized the situation as dire, saying the U.S. government has amassed a $16 trillion debt and has been reduced to borrowing millions of dollars every day just to operate.
"We're borrowing money to pay for everything we care about," he said, adding that while debt is accumulating "faster than ever in the history of our country," the Bush tax cuts expire Dec. 31 and sequestering - that's the across-the-board spending cuts mandated by Congress' continued failure to reign in the national debt - kicks in in mid-January. Those two things alone will unleash a devastating $5 trillion hit on the economy, he said.
"We have to get our financial house in order," he said. "The national debt is $16 trillion - not since 1947 have we had our debt the same as our GDP, the value of our economy. In 1947 ... we were coming out of World War II, trying to survive; this time it's self-inflicted, it's not for survival. We chose this path and now we have to correct it."
Left unchecked, he said America faces a credit downgrade, reduced GNP and a devastating spike in inflation.
Manchin, though, said support has been quietly building for the Bowles-Simpson plan, a bi-partisan approach to debt reduction rooted in the premise that in order to reign in the national debt, Congress is going to have to cut spending, increase revenue and effect government reform.
"Unless you're willing to look at all three, (debt reduction) won't work," he said.
Bowles-Simpson advocates "changing how we collect taxes" as well as how they're spent, with emphasis on reducing debt and improving the nation's infrastructure while eliminating fraud, systemic abuse and waste.
"We've got to be more efficient," he said. "We had $125 billion in fraud, abuse and waste identified in one year, last year. Over 10 years, that's $1.2 trillion. (Fixing that) would go a long way to solving the problems we have in this country."
He said the nation also needs a common sense energy policy, one that balances research and development of alternative energies with the realities of what America can do now.
"The energy policy we have right now is basically putting most of our eggs in the basket of renewables," he said, pointing out that it might be years before those technologies are doable.
"Right now, they're making it difficult to use our resources at a time when government should be partnering with us on research and development. There's a lot of talk about clean coal. We're using coal in a much cleaner fashion, for the last 20 or 30 years more than ever. We've cleaned it up and can do even more, but government all of a sudden ... wants to go off in a different direction. Forty percent of the energy in this nation comes from coal, 25 percent from natural gas and 20 percent from nuclear - that's 85 percent of the fuel that runs this nation, but they're not doing anything there. Instead, they're putting all their money into futuristic renewables."
And Manchin said federal regulators are over-reaching, adding that in his estimation the Obama administration is waging war on coal, setting impossibly high standards that are choking the industry. For instance, he said "EPA says water coming off mines in Appalachia has to be held to a higher standard than anywhere in the country." And if a coal-fired plant is built in America, "there has to be total carbon-sequestering."
"The problem is, we don't have that technology, so it's an unreasonable (expectation)," he said.
Manchin, meanwhile, said he parts company with the Obama administration when it makes sense for America and West Virginia, "and the White House knows that."
He also said the president blew a chance to fix the economy, saying he could have "been much more diligent in putting our financial house in order."
"He inherited a (country in) horrible financial condition, no doubt about it," he said. "But, on the other hand, you have to ask, have you made it any better?"
Manchin decried Washington's "toxic atmosphere," and said a big part of the problems is politically controlled redistricting. Because of backroom deals and gerrymandering, "the districts all (lean) one way or another. We don't have well-rounded Congressional districts anymore because we've allowed them to redistrict (the balance) out of it."
That partisanship, he said, has allowed politics to "trump what's good for the country, and, really, what's good for the next generation."
"This country is the hope for the world," he added. "If we can't get it right, there's a serious problem, and if we don't fix it, God help us all."