Manchin ditches Dems on debt

WASHINGTON – West Virginia’s two U.S. senators Thursday split on a House bill raising the debt ceiling for three months.

Raising the ceiling above the $16.4 trillion limit was the “responsible thing to do,” Sen. Jay Rockefeller said.

“It isn’t about spending,” Rockefeller said. “It’s about paying the bills we already have. Rather than holding our economy hostage and waiting until the last minute, we now have the assurance that we can honor our current obligations and avoid the risk of downgrading our nation’s credit rating again.”

The legislation, dubbed the No Budget, No Pay Act approved last week by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, was passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate on Thursday by a 64-34 vote.

While 12 Republicans voted for the bill, only one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., voted against it. Last week, Manchin had reservations of the bill, saying it delayed rather than took action on the fiscal problems.

The bill suspends the $16.4 trillion limit on federal borrowing to meet obligations, particularly Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Several amendments from Republicans failed, including an amendment from Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, that an immediate increase in the debt limit include spending cuts over a 10-year period. Manchin and Rockefeller were in favor.

It also required either chamber to pass a budget proposal by April 15 or their salaries would be withheld until a budget is passed. The Senate has not passed a budget since 2009.

“The debt ceiling is not a bargaining chip. Failing to raise the debt ceiling would lead to a weaker economy, deal a blow to American jobs, hurt people’s retirement savings, and raise interest rates on loans and credit cards,” Rockefeller said.

Congress must find a way to fix the federal government’s long-term spending and debt problems, Manchin said Thursday.

“I cannot understand why Congress refuses to confront our financial challenges. Pretending that we aren’t accumulating more debt by the minute is irresponsible, reckless and unethical,” Manchin said. “We must deal with our out-of-control debt right here, right now. That is why I have voted against suspending the debt ceiling.”

Manchin also had co-sponsored a no budget, no pay bill.

The House bill combines no budget, no pay with an irresponsible provision that would allow Congress to continue recklessly spending for the next three months and still pay legislators at the end of the 113th Congress, Manchin said.

“If we are unable or unwilling to work in a bipartisan manner to pass a budget, we should not get paid,” he said.