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Times West Virginian - Debt Nation's "Greatest Threat,'

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Location: Fairmont, WV

By Katie Wilson

Since he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., has made job creation and fiscal responsibility priorities.

Now he's putting the Mountain State at the forefront of the nationwide fiscal crisis, hosting a bipartisan financial discussion in Charleston in September.

"Our Finances and Our Future: A Bipartisan Conversation About the Facts" will be held Sept. 10 in the state Culture Center in Charleston and will feature former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson and former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, two men President Barack Obama appointed to co-chair the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

Manchin announced the event during a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday and followed up with a conference call with Bowles, Simpson and the media.

The bipartisan committee headed by Bowles and Simpson came up with a plan to solve the nation's financial crisis, just as they were charged to do, Simpson said, but they lacked three more votes to put their plan to a floor vote in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

"This is a predictable mess," Simpson said, "and we go around the country telling people that."

Manchin said he first met Bowles and Simpson when he served as governor. The two spoke at a National Governor's Association event in Boston.

Bowles called the national deficit a "cancer" that has to be removed.

He said every dollar the United States takes in in fees and taxes goes out in mandatory spending and interest on the federal debt. That mandatory spending includes programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Things like national defense, homeland security, infrastructure and education are paid for with loans, and half of the money borrowed comes from foreign countries.

"That's what we need to stop," Bowles said. "... The future of the country is really in danger."

"It's not scary rhetoric. It's just math," Simpson said.

The fiscal cliff Simpson and Bowles and their bipartisan committee are trying to avoid will come at the end of this year, Simpson said.

"We've made promises we can't keep," he said. "If we don't get our financial house in order -- if we go over the fiscal cliff at the end of this year -- it can throw us into a recession."

That fiscal cliff includes $7 trillion in economic events that will "hit us in the gut," Bowles said.

After that cliff, the country will reach a point when no one will loan the government money without increased fees, and citizens will suffer, Simpson said.

Bowles and Simpson discussed a number of things in the committee's plan, including cuts to programs across the board, including defense.

"We spend more on national defense than the next 15 countries combined, even including Russia," Bowles said.

They also discussed revamping the entire American tax code.

"We have an inefficient, globally ineffective tax code," Bowles said.

Simpson said no political party has worked with an honest budget in the 18 years he's been associated with Congress.

Manchin said he knew the deficit was a problem, but it didn't hit home until an Armed Services Committee meeting when a senator asked Adm. Mike Mullens, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, what the greatest threat to the nation was.

"He said the greatest threat we face as a nation is the national debt," Manchin said.

"I think I was sent (to Washington) to do something," Manchin said. "If you're a liberal, a conservative or a centrist, if you're passionate about energy, the environment, education, military or job creation, you can't do it if you can't pay for it."

The bipartisan financial discussion will be held Sept. 10 in the state Culture Center. No start time has been set, Manchin said, but the discussion is projected to begin in the morning and last about three hours.


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