Manchin talks politics, economy in Marlinton
Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) visited Marlinton last Friday, meeting with county leaders at the courthouse and walking through the downtown area.
Manchin, a self-proclaimed "middle man" in Washington, said that position can be uncomfortable as senators on the right and left of the aisle jockey for his vote.
"The middle gets squeezed a little bit," he said. "It's a little tight in the middle. I still believe so strongly that there's a balance. Building relationships is what it's all about. I'm willing to look for something that's reasonable. I haven't given up; I see so much opportunity."
While he was West Virginia's governor, he said Democrats and Republicans in the legislature were willing to work on their differences. That's not the trend in Washington these days, he said, as it "looks like the direction" of some conservative Republicans is to get Barack Obama out of the White House.
Manchin noted that the country's financial challenges are real and that those narrowly focused Republicans are only concerned about re-election.
"They would put politics above everything else," he said. "I've seen that they've almost taken us to the cliff. We spend more time looking at the 2012 elections than we do thinking about what's best for the next generation.
"We have differences in West Virginia, but there's a time to be a West Virginian and there's a time to be an American above all else," Manchin said.
"[Republicans] succeeded in shifting the debate [from the economy] to spending," Manchin observed. But instead of focusing on spending alone, the senator said some right-wing politicians just "want to shut everything down."
"They've hunkered down pretty heavy. I think they've isolated themselves," Manchin said. "Their constituency sees that, I hope."
Manchin said members of the "hardcore right" want to starve government and shut it down, even voting against new revenues for the federal government when they don't include higher taxes for any American.
"They don't want new revenues, even in savings," he said.
And shutting down government spending could mean a reversal of fortune for local governments, who Manchin said look to Washington when their own budgets fall short.
"We, as a society, are more dependent on government than we have ever been," he commented. "Every time something goes wrong, we reach for the phone to call DC or Charleston."
He said local projects like Marlinton's flood protection could be in danger and that the town needs to have flexibility so that it can use money for other projects, such as flood proofing buildings.
The senator said he just wanted to get other members of the Senate to be "more reasonable."
That could be a tall order with an election year looming.
Manchin also discussed the economy and how, he said, regulatory commissions are killing it.
Banking regulations, in particular, he said, are too strenuous, reducing the amount of money banks can loan customers by increasing the amount of paperwork and rules bankers have to live by in order to make loans.
Manchin said this state had no banks to fail; however, bankers here will have the same regulations to live by as Bank of America and AIG, both of which were bailed out by the federal government in 2009.
"[West Virginia] banks can't use the good banking procedures they've used before," Manchin said because of Dodd-Frank, a banking and financial regulatory bill that was signed into law last month.
According to msnbc.com senior writer Bob Sullivan, the bill "includes a series of measures that once again attempt to curtail the conflict of interest that is pervasive in the ratings world. For the first time, the SEC can actually decertify a ratings agency for allowing profit motives to influence ratings."
Companies like AIG and Lehman Brothers had been able to purchase their three-star ratings in 2006 and 2007, making them look like sound investments for Americans. When Wall Street tanked in 2008, those companies were on the verge of failure, AIG got billions in bailout funds and Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy.
Dodd-Frank would have set up an office to regulate the ratings agencies, but that office has not been funded, according to Columbia University Law Professor John Coffee. Companies had been able to "systematically inflate" their ratings because they could pay ratings agencies like Standards and Poor for the rating they wanted.
Manchin said he is co-sponsoring a bill called the "Reins Act" that would rein-in regulatory agencies and "look for balance."
"We don't have to raise rates, we don't have to have more taxes, we just need to collect the ones we're due," he said.
Manchin said the "scamming of government" needs to stop and that Congress must stop "loopholes and credits."
The senator said he believes that some businesses are "sitting on cash" and that only 50 percent of the people in America are paying taxes.
"The tax codes are screwed up," he said. "The top end is getting richer. The tax code has to be addressed. None of the leadership will buy in to it."
Manchin toured several businesses in Marlinton before he visited the West Virginia State Fair.