By CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD — Click here for video
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., realizes that Congress is a divided house. And he’s not happy about it.
“I believe in bringing a bipartisan approach to fixing America’s problems,” Manchin, who met earlier this month with members of the Daily Telegraph’s editorial board, said. “The country is so divided right now. The biggest challenging right now is getting our financial house in order. I will always vote to put my country before my state. My party and my personal politics.”
Manchin is seeking re-election to a full six-year term in the U.S. Senate. He is once again being challenged by Republican John Raese for the seat formerly held by the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd.
Raese, who was scheduled to appear before the editorial board last week, canceled his scheduled meeting. His campaign said another editorial board interview could not be rescheduled for the week. As a result, only Manchin appeared before the editorial board.
Manchin said Congress, and America, didn’t become divided overnight, and the deep bipartisan political divide won’t be solved overnight.
“Let’s look at the common sense and see how we’ve gotten to where we are today,” Manchin said. “You have 24-7 news cycles. Who thought five years ago we would be webcasting in a newspaper office? Everything is changing. The whole dynamics have changed.”
Manchin is hopeful that lawmakers will start working together again after the Nov. 6 election.
“I’ve got to think that the rhetoric will tone down,” Manchin said. “But when you have one political party and a leader from one political party, who says his main goal is to make sure the president isn’t re-elected — that type of rhetoric has to go. I believe it will.”
Manchin, an outspoken advocate for coal and self-professed centralist committed to working with both Republicans and Democrats alike, says the so-called approaching “fiscal cliff” is a very real threat that must be addressed. He believes the lame duck Congress must tackle the issue — as well as the soon to expire Bush tax cuts — when they return to Washington after the Nov. 6 election.
For his part, Manchin said he has no plans on endorsing either President Barack Obama or Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
“People know me well enough to know that I will put my country first,” Manchin said. “I disagree with both of these people. I don’t feel compelled to make an endorsement on either candidate. I have concerns, and definitely have concerns with Gov. Romney’s positions. He wants to protect those on the top of the income range. He wants to double down. I don’t believe that is the proper approach to take. And with the president I’m just totally disappointed that we don’t have the financial correction, and a leader stepping up and saying we can fix it. And no matter what they say there is a war on coal, and here is a perfect example why. You can talk to Randy Huffman, head of the Department of Environmental Protection in Charleston, and he will tell you the water discharge standards are held to a higher standard in Appalachian and West Virginia than any other part of the country. And that’s what we sued them on. And we’ve won on both (lawsuits) in federal court. The EPA you would think would call and say — ‘can we sit down and talk to you Joe.’ No. They want to drag it on and take it to the U.S. Supreme Court. God bless you if you can’t make up your mind. I’m having a hard time making mine too.”
Manchin said the coalfields of southern West Virginia have overcome adversity before, and will overcome the latest challenges.
“Those of us who have been born and raised in the coalfields — we’ve seen the ups and downs of the market our whole lives,” Manchin said. “I can remember 1959 just like it was yesterday. I was 12 years old. I was in the Boy Scouts. I came home from school that day and saw almost every man I knew sitting on the sidewalk. Unemployed. That was the rise of automation. But we have lived through cycles and we have survived. But never did we have the federal government in any of those cycles to jump in and double down against us. This is the first time I remember that. A lot of people aren’t going to be here when the market turns. There are going to be a lot of power plants not burning coal. Who is going to pay that price? When you don’t have a diverse energy market the consumer will pay, and the economy will pay.”
Manchin said coal — and clean coal technologies — should be supported — and not attacked — by the government.
I think what I’m saying is government should be your partner, and help you develop industries as much as you can,” he said.
When asked about the long-fight for an outpatients veterans clinic in Mercer County, Manchin said he is committed to the cause. He is promising to get answers — soon — on whether the Veterans Admin-istration has conducted a cost analysis on such an outpatient clinic. Because Princeton Community Hospital has offered to let the VA utilize a currently unused section of the hospital for an outpatient clinic, the cost should be minimal, according to Manchin.
“I know Congressman Rahall has been working very had on this and I’m working with him,” Manchin said. “And I’m committed. The bottom line is it probably comes down to finances. I don’t think they understand we have a facility (for the outpatient clinic). That’s the highest priority we have in this area is the veterans. I don’t know why they haven’t done a cost analysis. I would assume there hasn’t been a cost analysis. I will get you the answer. We will find out.”
Manchin said he is unaware of opposition from the Beckely VA Hospital to the Mercer County project of an veterans outpatient clinic in Princeton.
“As a U.S. senator, no one from Beckley has called me and said don’t support that (in Mercer County),” he said.
Manchin said he remains concerned about the ban on federal earmarks. Such earmarks were used by Byrd to build sections of future roads — such as the King Coal Highway and the Coalfields Expressway — and water, sewer and broadband systems before they were banned by Congress.
“That is crazy — totally crazy,” Manchin said of the federal earmark ban. “Money is going to be dispersed whether it is federal, county or state. That is like being a council person who has no input on where the stoplight will be. You’ve got to have input. That’s why you are you elected. What they haven’t had is transparency. First of all there should be a total transparency on requests. And an audit should be filed. And I should be able to answer for it. If it is a pork barrel, then I should be held responsible. But if it is for water, broadband or sewer, I should be as proud as a peacock. Bob Byrd got chastised for the FBI center like he moved it out there under the cover of darkness. It is now the most productive FBI center in the country. We would have never had those opportunities (had it not been for earmarks). I just think as a legislator that is your job.”
Manchin said he would have no opposition to a presidential line-item veto on federal earmarks.
“As an executive I liked it,” Manchin said of line-item vetos. “We had it in ‘West Virginia. I’m OK with it. I know Sen. Byrd was totally opposed to it. I know that.”
Manchin also addressed economic development on the local level, and the need for unity in Mercer County.
“Broadband and high-speed Internet is the same as a road or bridge was two years ago,” Manchin said. “You just have to make sure you are investing in those things. Has there been a master plan done? How do we diversify? What is the fastest growing areas of technology? Then you have tourism, and all of those different things. Why did Kroger move from here and go there? I used to hear it was the food tax. But you can’t say that anymore.”
Manchin said Mercer County is unique in having two large cities. But he believes it is important for the county to come together in support of unified goals.
“When you can’t come together as a community don’t expect the state or federal government to come in and do it for you,” Manchin said. “There are too many obstacles.”
Without federal earmarks, and without a new long-term federal highway transportation bill, Manchin was asked how projects like the King Coal Highway and the Coalfields Expressway can be completed.
Manchin said a toll road concept won’t work on all highways, adding that only a few projects in West Virginia would qualify for a toll road. He believes active mining operations that can help to create a project roadbed can help. However, such efforts are being challenged by the EPA.
“Anytime we can mine a piece of property, and build a road base (it helps), but we are getting shut down on that,” Manchin said. “We had Consol trying to help us on that and running into an incredible road block. So I will continue to raise hell and embarrass them (the EPA) if that is what it takes. Let them understand you are not helping us. This will change. But you have to have an economy that will pick up and an economy that will rebuild.”
Raese is campaigning on a theme of jobs, repealing Obamacare, protecting coal, and addressing America’s run away deb. Raese has served as president and chief executive officer of Greer Industries, vice president of the Morgantown Dominion-Post, founder of Pikewood Creative and as a board chair of the West Virginia Radio Corporation.
Raese and his family have been doing business in West Virginia and surrounding states for almost a century. Greer Limestone is a company that is the largest limestone mining operation in West Virginia, but Greer Industries also includes coal mining, steel manufacturing and other interests. During a meeting with the Daily Telegraph editorial board in 2010, Raese said Greer used to manufacture coke — or coal with all the impurities burned off, used in the steel-making process — in West Virginia, but the federal government ordered the company’s coke ovens in Mason County to be closed.
“We are the only country in the world that would regulate keeping our natural resources in the ground,” Raese said during the 2010 interview.
— Contact Charles Owens at email@example.com