From the Hill to the Mountains: A weekly column by U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)
September 20, 2012
Last week, the people of our great state turned out by the hundreds to demonstrate that we are willing to come together to face the tough fiscal choices that will put this country on the right track for the next generation.
I wasn’t surprised, but I was proud that so many of you took time from your busy lives to attend the first-ever bipartisan federal fiscal summit to get the hard facts about the federal government’s out-of-whack budget and to have a candid conversation about commonsense fixes. Your presence at the summit sent an important message to Washington – if West Virginia families can balance their budgets, then Congress can, too.
Thanks to each and every one of you who was able to attend, especially Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito and a representative from Senator Rockefeller’s office, along with representatives for members of the Congressional delegation and elected state leaders.
For those of you who weren’t able to attend in person, you can find more information about the bipartisan summit on my web site: www.Manchin.Senate.gov.
The highlight of the summit was listening to Erskine Bowles and Senator Alan Simpson, the architects of the most comprehensive, bipartisan plan yet for getting control of our country’s runaway debt. Congresswoman Capito and I shared the stage to ask them questions and open the forum up for discussion.
Erskine Bowles hit the nail on the head when he pointed out that our budget deficit, which is now running more than $1 trillion a year, is “like a cancer” that weakens us more every year it goes untreated. So did Alan Simpson, when he noted how the “personal bitterness” between both parties in Congress is preventing serious talks about getting our spending under control.
The report from the Debt Commission that Erskine and Alan co-chaired is the most sensible and reasonable approach I’ve seen. It’s not perfect, and no one agrees with every single recommendation in it. But it’s the best place for Congress and the White House to begin.
The Bowles-Simpson plan recommends spending cuts, additional revenue, meaningful tax and entitlement reform and cracking down on waste, fraud and abuse. No single approach will work – it has to be comprehensive, with shared sacrifice.
Two things cemented my attitude about the Bowles-Simpson report shortly after I arrived in the Senate: First, the 2011 budget proposed spending $3.8 trillion even though we had only $2.6 trillion in revenue; and second, Admiral Mike Mullen, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned Congress that the biggest threat to American security wasn’t terrorism or nuclear war, but the national debt.
Just days before our fiscal summit, the national debt hit $16 trillion – for the first time in our history. That works out to a debt of $50,700 for every man, woman and child in the United States. If we keep going without any changes, in 10 years we’ll need $79,000 from everybody in the country to pay off the debt.
If we don’t change our spending habits, in 2020 we will be spending more than $1 trillion a year on interest alone. In 2024, Medicare will become insolvent. And in 2033, Social Security will have only enough money to pay 75 percent of benefits.
If the federal government can’t get its financial house in order, the hard truth is that we’re not going to be able to do any of the things people want done – whether it’s building roads, schools and hospitals or energy, medical and scientific research. If we can’t pay for it, we can’t do it.
We’re running out of time on the budget. If we don’t do anything, we face a “fiscal cliff” at the end of the year – tax increases and automatic spending cuts without any regard to what is important and what isn’t. The risk is we could throw our fragile economy back into recession.
I am determined to make sure that doesn’t happen.
I am determined to see America on the right path again, unshackled from crippling debt. I am determined to see America strong again. I am determined to see America do great things again, for generations to come.
And I know the people of West Virginia are ready to do it, because we came together and fixed our state’s finances.