By JIM McCONVILLE
BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. — The scariest threat facing America right now?
Is it nuclear war, or illegal immigration, or global warming, or possible election tampering by a foreign power?
No, according to U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who held a “community town hall” meeting at the Country Inn in Berkeley Springs Friday.
The country’s biggest threat, according to Manchin, is our own profligate spending he said will be soon measured in “trillions” rather than billions.
An estimated 150 people attended the town hall session where Manchin fielded questions from voters on topics ranging from health care, gun rights, opioid treatment and what cuts to make in the federal budget.
However, getting the country’s financial books in order ranks highest on the national “to do” list, Manchin said.
“We are going to add $666 billion more debt this year,” Manchin said. “By 2027, we’re predicting we will be $31 trillion in debt, if we don’t change our ways.”
Manchin’s suggestion: Enact a constitutional balanced budget Amendment to force the federal government to start balancing its own checkbook.
“No matter what they (federal government) want to do, at the end of the day we’ve got to make sure they balance the budget at the end of the year,”Manchin said.
According to Manchin, the difference between the federal and state budget balancing act is the federal government has a safety valve to print more money if the budget doesn’t balance.
And contrary to current partisan political rhetoric in Washington, D.C. Manchin says both political parties have been equally to blame the past 50 years.
“They have a printing press,” Manchin said. “They don’t want to give up being to print money. On either side of aisle — Democrat or Republican — they’re both guilty.”
Adopting a conversational speaking style filled with an ample dose of anecdotes and analogies, Manchin spoke nearly two hours, answering questions from a cross section of voters and soon to be voters: High school students.
Manchin compared the current Washington, D.C. approach to fiscal policy — dubbed by insiders as “dynamic scoring” — to a consumer looking for money to pay the mortgage.
“I have a mortgage payment due tomorrow,” Manchin said. “I’m concerned about my mortgage payment, so I’m going to go to the casino tonight.”
Manchin expressed disapproval with the most recent federal budget proposal, which he said includes sizable cuts in federal health aid.
“The budget — the way it was written — assumes that there could be a half a trillion dollars in cuts in Medicare and a trillion dollar in cuts in Medicaid,”Manchin said.
“You are talking about the most vulnerable, that are aged, are older, and those people with the most vulnerability,” Manchin said.
In response to the sector of U.S. voters who feel such social aid programs are unearned handout, Manchin told the audience the country has a moral responsibility to provide services to help Americans who are in need, despite the backlash such programs can generate among a certain sector of voters.
“How do you find that balance?” asked Manchin. “Well, you have to have a social net. A social net basically is to get you back in the game. I think the moral obligation that we have is those who can’t get back in the game, is that we have enough compassion to take care of — that’s who we are as Americans.”
Manchin suggested creating a “MAT” tax to help pay for federal social programs.
“It would be a ‘Minimum American Tax’ — everyone should pay $100, “Manchin said. “If I make a lot more money, I should pay a lot more. But I make a little bit, I should pay at least something, to say ‘thank you America.’”
When asked about the country’s federal health care program — the Affordable Care Act — Manchin said he told President Donald Trump it would make more sense to adjust the ACA than throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water.
“It needs to be repaired — it cannot survive the way it is, but we can fit it,”Manchin said. ‘This thing is so toxic in Washington, if you repeal it, we’ll never get anything.”
Touching on the country’s drug abuse crisis, Manchin applauded President Trump’s announcement made Thursday declaring it a national health crisis.
“People are saying that’s too little — we need money — it doesn’t do this, it doesn’t do that,” Manchin said. “Well, we (Congress) are the appropriators — we’re the one who are going to make that happen.”
Manchin underlined the importance of government action in tackling the national drug crisis.
“It’s of epidemic proportion,” Manchin said. “200,000 Americans have died. we haven’t lost this many people since World War II. And we know nothing about it — nothing. If we don’t change our ways, we are going to lose a generation.”
Manchin proposed enacting a “drug tax” on all legal opioid pharmaceuticals to help pay for drug addiction treatment.
“I want to charge all the phamaceutical companies one penny for every gram of opiate they produce and sell in America ,” Machin said. “That one penny will produce one half to two billion dollars a year to go to the front line — the treatment centers.”
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