-- Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV)
Apparently, Senator Joe Manchin takes criticism very seriously. Labeled as a potential "rubber stamp" for President Obama, Manchin now appears hell bent on proving he indeed is in charge of his own vote in Congress' upper house.
Manchin immediately took office after his victory in the November special election and is raising eyebrows for his votes in the Senate.
Manchin's first vote dealt with an amendment to legislation that would have prohibited 'earmarks' from 2011-2013. The amendment defined an 'earmark' as:
"... [any] provision providing, authorizing, or recommending a specific amount of discretionary budget authority, credit authority, or other spending authority for a contract, loan, loan guarantee, grant, loan authority, or other expenditure with or to an entity, or targeted to a specific State, locality or Congressional district."This definition is also associated with another word -- 'pork.' Members of Congress often work very diligently to see their state or district receives a certain amount of federal funding or that a project is steered back home.
Practically anyone can understand why a member of Congress would attempt to obtain an earmark for their constituents. West Virginians have been the recipients of such activity for decades under the leadership of the late senator, Robert Byrd. His long tenure as chairman of the Appropriations Committee in the Senate saw West Virginia become the beneficiary of many federal projects.
In filling Byrd's seat, Manchin now appears to be poised to continue the tradition. However, I have to register a complaint here. Pork often lead to billions of dollars in wasteful spending on needless projects ('Bridge to Nowhere,' anyone?). With the national debt expected to exceed $15 trillion by the end of next year, members of the Senate should put a moratorium on their 'pet projects.' Our politicians preach fiscal responsibility yet they stop when the opportunity comes to take action.
Manchin's next opportunity to cast a key vote was on the issue of tax cut extensions. The first measure put up to a vote by the Senate would have extended tax cuts only to those making under $250,000 annually. Manchin voted 'no' on this issue, one of only five Democrats to do so. Why would Manchin vote in such a manner that would benefit the overwhelming majority of his constituents?
The Senate offered a compromise bill that would have extended tax cuts for those making less than $1,000,000 annually, and on this vote, Manchin cast a 'yea.' Ultimately, this bill failed. My concern is that Manchin, as governor, was fiscally responsible in creating a surplus for the state. Manchin has noted on several occasions he did not support Obama's stimulus plan, stating "I'm more of a person that you have got to have something coming in return, basically."
If Manchin is supposed to be so fiscally wise, then why not vote for the first tax cut measure which would have generated nearly $800 billion in revenue over the next three years? West Virginians typically do not make more than $250,000 per year. What happend to doing what was best for state and country? The large amount of revenue would be "something coming in return."
Incidentally, Manchin also stated during his swearing in, that "we got our financial house in order and laid the groundwork for a strong future for our state. I want to bring those experiences to Washington to help get America moving forward again." Isn't continuing with needless pet projects and extending tax cuts for all Americans a return to the past? Are these policies moving the state and country forward?
Manchin voted for the 'compromise' bill because it was politically shrewd to do so. By voting for the second attempt at the extension, he doesn't look like Obama's pal, and can say he was trying to work in the spirit of compromise.
As noted in the news recently, Congress finally agreed to extend tax cuts for all Americans, which Manchin was more than happy to vote for. In doing so, he helped lose out on a considerable amount of money to help shrink next year's budget deficit and aided in increasing the debt, as unemployment benefits were extended 13 months. Allowing unemployment benefits to be extended isn't a bad vote itself, but it doesn't make sense when the country would have to borrow the money to pay those benefits. Is the house in order yet?
Yesterday, Manchin touched a nerve with many citizens in the state by not voting on the repeal of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' (DADT) policy and the DREAM Act that would provide a path to citizenship for immigrants who had served the country in various aspects. His reasoning for missing the two significant votes? A family Christmas party. According to a spokesman for the senator, the event had been planned nearly a year in advance and was a family obligation that couldn't be broken.
While I admire Manchin's devotion to family, I cannot agree with his decision to skip two crucial votes. No citizen can expect their elected leaders to vote the way they want on all measures, but they should be able to expect their representatives to actually vote. Remember his promise?
"I will be an independent voice who will always put our state, and our country, first."
So far, senator, you indeed have not be a rubber stamp for President Obama. But you haven't been representing West Virginia or the country very well either.