Manchin on Congress: ‘We Never Acknowledge We’ve Made a Mistake’

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), who was elected to the Senate in 2010, said he is still struggling to learn the “new math” used in Washington that leads to deficits rather than balanced budgets.

“The first day I came to the Senate I said, ‘What’s our revenue?’ Well, I was told immediately we’re going to spend about $3.5 to $3.7 trillion and I said, ‘OK, how much money will we have?’ ‘Well, we’ve looked every way possible and we don’t think we can cut much out of the $3.5 or $3.7,’” Manchin, a former governor of West Virginia, said at a Brookings Institution event on governing from the middle.

“How much do you think we have to pay? ‘Oh, we have about $2.2 trillion to pay.’ I said, ‘We’re not high-end mathematicians at home but we can add and subtract. We figure you’re about $1.5 trillion short.’”

Manchin said balanced budgets apparently do not apply to the federal government.

“I haven’t figured out this new math in Washington. I’m trying,” he said. “Everyone’s confused about this new math. I’m having a hard time myself.”

In West Virginia, Manchin said people often asked him how he was able to balance the budget.

“I had to pick things. Everybody wanted all these things to be done. I said, ‘Fine, here’s what I’ve got to work with. Tell me which group you want to go tell that we can’t do that anymore,” he said. “We are now trying to bring that same approach to the Senate.”

Manchin announced plans to introduce legislation that would require Congress, the White House Office of Management and Budget and the Congressional Budget Office to include tax expenditures in budget materials.

“The same way discretionary spending is a line item in budget proposals today,” he said. “In Washington, I guess whenever we do something we think it was what needed to be done. We never acknowledge we made a mistake – it didn’t work. If that’s the case, then why do you need us to come back every year?”

Manchin, a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said he is in favor of raising the federal minimum wage but that it will not boost the middle class.

“I’m for raising the minimum wage. I think it should be indexed. I think a lot of things should be indexed once we get them back to where they should be but the minimum wage from this standpoint is not going to raise the middle class,” he said. “If minimum wage is what they think is the only way we can raise any type of quality life, we’re in trouble.”

Addressing entitlement reform, Manchin said, “we’re not rehabilitating anybody. The culture of America is we don’t seem to want to hold you responsible or accountable.”

“You know, we give you something, if it doesn’t work, we’ll give you twice as much,” he added.

Manchin told the audience the federal government should be re-checking individuals receiving disability checks each month.

“We’ve got more people signing up for total disability than ever before,” he said. “Why aren’t we re-checking them? Why not make them come back to reevaluate if they are still totally disabled? You’re getting a lifetime reward, a lifetime check – that’s the jackpot. You’ve done hit the lottery, and those types of things we need to look at.”

Manchin, who replaced the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), lamented the lack of bipartisanship in Congress.

“Unfortunately today in Washington we live by the concept that you are no longer guilty by association, you’re guilty by conversation today. If someone sees you talking to the opposite side, or somebody that might not have your same thought process or philosophical belief, it’s almost like you’ve gone to the dark side,” Manchin told the audience.

“I said, ‘My goodness, how can we learn what our differences are if we can’t talk to each other and communicate and try to find a commonality?’ Gone are the days when senators of different parties break bread in the Senate dining room. I used to hear about that.”

He expressed frustration with the current legislative process.

“If it was about personal politics and not public politics, I would be out of here. I’m the first to tell you that. There’s no place like home,” he later added.

Manchin said senators rarely get together for a bipartisan meal.

“When you see us on C-SPAN on the floor, that’s about the most time we spend with each other is when you see us during on a vote on the floor,” he said.

Manchin explained that he started a bipartisan lunch with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and other legislators.

“It has worked and we’ve been fairly successful with it,” he said.