Civitas News Service
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) spoke with several members of the West Virginia Thursday and unveiled his priorities for the 113th Congress.
“I will be focusing on issues important to West Virginians and approaching them in ways that reflect the values of the Mountain State,” he said. “As we begin the work of the 113th Congress, I start with fresh optimism and determination to make sure that we set our legislative priorities based on our values.”
Manchin said he has proposed legislation that West Virginians care about the most.
“Those are getting our country’s financial house in order; keeping our promises to our seniors, veterans and children; achieving energy independence; addressing mass violence in a way that brings all parties to the table and finally ending the war in Afghanistan,” he said in a telephone conference call with West Virginia journalists Thursday.
The senator also expressed confidence that Washington can overcome its partisanship to address major challenges facing the country.
“The partisan divides in Washington may be as strong as ever, but I truly believe that we can put our differences aside to tackle serious problems our great country faces – because the simple fact is we must. West Virginians sent me to Washington to represent their values, and that is exactly what I plan to do every day that I have the honor of serving my great state as a United States Senator.
In the weeks to come, Manchin said he would introduce bills, as well as additional legislation that addresses his top priorities. He said he would also continue to develop other bills as he hears from West Virginians.
Manchin said he supports a true “No budget, no pay” bill, but can’t give a definite answer on his support for the bill that recently passed in the U.S. House of Delegates.
“I can’t give a definite answer at this moment,” Manchin said.
This bill prohibits Members of Congress from receiving pay if both houses of Congress fail to approve a concurrent resolution on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year before the end of the current fiscal year.
“They will be sending it over to the Senate and we will be debating it,” Manchin said.
Calling it a debt limit “suspension,” the House voted to pass the “No Budget, No Pay Act,” a measure that will allow the federal government to continue to spend until May 19, at which time it will consider the issue once again. It also takes away any threat of a government shutdown, which the GOP initially considered as a way to force the Obama administration to agree to spending cuts.
“Congress hasn’t met a deadline since I have been here,” Manchin said. “They just keep passing continuing resolutions, but not really doing anything. I am ready to make the tough votes that need to be made.”
The bill adds additional incentive for the House and Senate to come to terms on fiscal matters, placing the salary checks for each member of Congress in escrow until a budget agreement is reached, or until the end of the 113th Congress, whichever happens first. The bill requires a budget from the House and the Senate by April 15. Passed largely due to House Republican votes, the bill received criticism from some Democrats.
According to other media reports, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the salary provision a “joke” and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer called the bill a “political gimmick” that perpetuates uncertainty.
Manchin mentioned that 86 Democrats voted for the bill that passed 285 to 144, but that was because of the large support of Republicans in the House. Most House Democrats voted against the bill.
Manchin says the current bill doesn’t sit well with him.
“I have a hard time confirming this bill with some of the things in it,” he said. “It does not meet the crisis we have currently. How much longer are we going to play kick the can? This country is paying billions of dollars in interest every single day. We must get our fiscal house in order.”
Manchin also said he planned to keep his promises to seniors by sponsoring the “Seniors’ Financial Bill of Rights.”
“This legislation requires states to develop a Seniors’ Financial Bill of Rights to empower seniors and protect them from financial exploitation,” he explained. “This legislation would also improve seniors’ access to financial services and supports by adding to the purpose of state Aging and Disability Resource Centers that they offer older adults, people with disabilities, caregivers and families’ financial counseling and legal assistance.”
Manchin said he will also keep his promises to veterans with the “Military Childcare Act” and “Streamlining Services for Older Veterans Act.”
“The Military Childcare bill directs the Government Accountability Office to review contracted hiring procedures at Department of Defense day care centers,” Manchin explained. “We must ensure that our military children are receiving the best care possible, especially in light of recent abuses at one of the largest child development centers in the Department of Defense.
“The Streamlining Services for Older Veterans bill requires state and local agencies that provide services to the elderly to work closer with those that provide services to veterans, including the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and to reach out to veterans to inform them of assistance for which they are eligible under the Older Americans Act,” Manchin added.
Two issues that hit home in southern West Virginia’s coalfields are the “EPA Fair Play Act” and the “Hydrocodone Rescheduling Act.”
West Virginia’s coalfield counties have been hit hard by U.S. EPA regulations, which Manchin has called “unfair.”
“There is a lack of confidence with the U.S. EPA and its permitting process,” Manchin said. “I believe it is fundamentally wrong for any bureaucratic agency, including the EPA, to regulate what has not been legislated, to have absolute power to change the rules at the end of the game and to revoke a permit, as the EPA did in southern West Virginia’s Spruce Mine, after it was lawfully granted and employees were hired. Giving any agency such absolute power will have a chilling effect on investment and job creation far beyond West Virginia.”
Manchin said America needs to achieve energy independence and he will reintroduce the “EPA Fair Play Act.”
“This bill would rein in EPA’s overreach, preventing the agency from revoking permits that have already been legally granted, protecting jobs and investments in West Virginia and promoting American energy independence and security,” he said.
The bill was originally introduced in 2011 and died in committee.
Manchin says he will also attack the prescription drug abuse epidemic by sponsoring and supporting the “Hydrocodone Rescheduling Act.”
“This legislation reclassifies drugs containing hydrocodone — a highly-addictive substance found in medications such as Vicodin and Lortab – as Schedule II substances, meaning that patients would need an original prescription for refills, pills would be stored and transported more securely, and traffickers would be subject to increased fines and penalties,” Manchin explained. “Put simply, this legislation makes it more difficult to abuse addictive pain medications.”
On May 24, 2012, the U.S. Senate passed the FDA Safety and Innovation Act (S. 3187) with an amendment to reclassify all products containing hydrocodone from Schedule III to Schedule II. The companion bill, known as the FDA Reform Act of 2012 (H.R. 5651), was passed by the House of Representatives on May 30 without a mention of hydrocodone rescheduling.
Currently, the proposed hydrocodone amendment is under consideration for the final bill, which is expected to be signed by President Barack Obama this summer.
Manchin said he hopes that the amendment will assist in combating prescription drug abuse. He discussed the problem of prescription drug abuse in his hometown of Farmington, referring to the experiences of students’ families.
Under the amendment, refills of Vicodin prescriptions would be prohibited.
However, the American Pharmacists Association, Food Marketing Institute, International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists, National Association of Chain Drug Stores, and the National Community Pharmacists Association oppose the amendment because of concerns about decreased access for patients with legitimate prescriptions for pain and because of the additional burden that increased regulation would place on pharmacies. These organizations issued letters to the Senate and House voicing their concerns.
“I am not buying into that argument of additional burden,” Manchin said. “Those in severe pain for a long period of time should be going to the doctor regularly. We have to do something about this prescription pill abuse epidemic that is plaguing our local communities, our state and our nation.”
Manchin told reporters that America must also address its culture of mass violence.
Manchin said he is a member of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and does not support a ban on guns. He does support the creation of a “National Commission on Mass Violence.”
“The legislation establishes a bipartisan commission to take a comprehensive look at the causes of and solutions to mass violence in America, relying on expertise rather than opinion,” he said.
Manchin also wants to see the ending of the war in Afghanistan. Manchin recently wrote the President urging him to reduce the troop strength in Afghanistan.
“This resolution declares that the United States needs to draw down forces in Afghanistan as quickly as possible, while maintaining the safety of our troops and our ability to fight terrorism around the world,” Manchin said.
Manchin ended the telephone conference with West Virginia journalists by giving his thought to the MTV television show “Buckwild,” which has brought national attention to the state. Manchin wanted producers to cancel the show before it aired because he said it portrayed unrealistic stereotypes.
“They shouldn’t call it reality television because it is not reality, it’s unrealistic entertainment,” he said.
When asked if he watched the show, Manchin replied, “No I haven’t and I don’t plan to watch it. It’s not my type of entertainment.”