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Mr. MANCHIN. Mr. President, I rise today to announce a rare opportunity for the people of my State, who care so much about the future of our country.
When I travel all around my beautiful State of West Virginia, one of the biggest concerns I hear from the people is simply that our Nation's finances are in such bad shape we could be the first generation that leaves this country and leaves our next generation in worse shape than we received it.
I am determined to make sure that doesn't happen, and I am sure the Presiding Officer is as well. I am determined to bring people together to fix our finances and put this country back on the right path. I am also determined that all our children and grandchildren will be able to live a more fulfilling and prosperous life than we do.
But we are running out of easy options to put our country's financial house in order. And every day we delay a big fix, the price will be higher, the changes will be more painful, and the choices will be more stark. With our country's finances so far out of control, all of the priorities we all care about--whether it is creating jobs, maintaining the best military in the world, keeping the core of vital programs such as Social Security, or educating the next generation--are in jeopardy.
If we care about rebuilding America--investing in our highways and our roads, our airports, our water and sewer systems--we cannot do it if we don't pay for it. If we care about creating jobs and giving our businesses certainty, we can't do that either if we can't pay for it. And if we care about educating the next generation and preparing this generation with the skill sets they need for the jobs of today and tomorrow, we can't do it if we can't pay for it.
If we care about having an energy policy that uses all of our domestic resources in the cleanest possible manner; if we care about developing technology for clean coal; if we care about finally ending our dependence on foreign oil from hostile countries, we can't do it if we can't pay for it.
If we care about having the best military in the world, one that can defend the liberty of this great Nation at home and, where needed, abroad, we simply can't do it if we can't pay for it.
If we care about helping the vulnerable, the sick, the weak, and keeping our vital core promises--such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Head Start--we simply can't do it if we can't pay for it.
Any nation that wants to be a strong nation, that wants to invest in its priorities and wants to leave the country in better shape for the next generation cannot be shackled by crippling debt. If the Federal Government can't get its financial houses in order, the hard truth is all these priorities I spoke about will be slashed--sooner than any of us would like to admit.
Whether we consider ourselves a Democrat, a Republican, an Independent, or we have no affiliation at all; whether we consider ourselves a liberal, a conservative, or a centrist--wherever we fall in the spectrum--none of the priorities we care about on all those sides can happen unless we can pay for it. The old saying is as true today as it ever has been: You can't help others if you're not strong enough to help yourself.
It is time to make America strong again.
Let me give some troubling figures that illustrate how bad it has gotten: The debt hole we have dug for ourselves now equals the entire amount of goods this country produces; in other words, our gross domestic product. That hasn't happened since 1947.
Think of the next group of lawmakers who will be sitting where we sit in 2033, which is just around the corner. They are going to have to look Americans in the eye and tell them the Social Security check they are receiving will only be 75 percent of what is owed to them. They will have to say it is because the group who came before us didn't do their job.
Think of 10 years from now, truly around the corner, when every man, woman, and child in this country will owe more than $79,000 to pay off our national debt. Today it is about $50,700, which is way too high, but it is only going to get worse if we don't do our job and fix it.
There are 3 million jobs going unfulfilled in this country because they say the workforce doesn't have the right skills in order to perform those jobs, and our unemployment rate has been the highest for the longest period of time. That is not acceptable.
Who exactly is supposed to pay for all this debt? If we do the math, the picture isn't pretty. We are not balancing our budget, we are not training people for the jobs of the future, and we are leaving our children and grandchildren a massive debt that, as of today, equals the entire economic production of this great Nation.
To me, however we do the math--even if we use funny Washington accounting tricks--this situation adds up to a train wreck at best. I am determined to prevent this oncoming train wreck, and I will do all I can, working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. I have said people back home didn't send me to Washington to put the next generation into more debt. They sent me to, hopefully, help get them out of debt.
Putting this country back on the right path will hurt, but we have to be willing to come together across party lines. We have to determine our highest priorities and make tough choices. That is what the people of West Virginia sent me to do, not to cater to any one special interest group.
There are plenty of politicians who will talk about fixing the problem, who will pay lip service to coming up with a plan, who will talk a good game--what we call talk the talk--but can't walk the walk. But in the end, the problem will continue to fester if we don't do something.
I am not one of those politicians who can turn a blind eye to our debt and walk away from it. The people of West Virginia expect more. They expect me to make hard choices and work with both Democrats and Republicans to do the right thing for our State. No matter how hard it will be to fix our problems--and it is clear everyone will need to have a little skin in the game and share these sacrifices--I am determined to do it.
But no Senator--no matter how committed they may be--can do it alone. That is why I am so pleased to announce that two of the Nation's greatest financial leaders will be coming to West Virginia to hold an open forum with the people of our State about the future of our finances, and we call that ``Our Finances and Our Future.'' Former Senator Alan Simpson, a Republican from Wyoming, and Mr. Erskine Bowles, a Democrat who is the former White House Chief of Staff under President Bill Clinton, are two of the toughest and smartest people in this country when it comes to our finances.
Since I have been here, the most bipartisan effort to fix our finances has been led by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson. They were asked to head the President's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. It was bipartisan when it began, it has stayed bipartisan all this time, and it has grown with the number of Senators from both sides of the aisle who understand we need a big fix that comes from both sides of the aisle in a bipartisan way.
Bowles and Simpson paint a grim picture about the problems we are facing. In December of 2010, they laid out a serious blueprint for a solution--one that isn't perfect but that has earned more support from members of both parties than anything else that has been proposed in Washington.
Since then, too many of our leaders have put their heads in the sand about this proposal and the choices we face. But West Virginia is different from most of the States. We welcome the hard truth because we know we have to face the truth. Believe me, we can handle the truth in West Virginia.
On September 10, West Virginians will have an opportunity to hear some truth telling. I am so proud that Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles will hold a forum, ``Our Finances and Our Future: A Bipartisan Conversation about the Facts,'' at our magnificent cultural center. They will present the facts--and there is no doubt the facts are dire--and lay out the magnitude of the problem we face, and then we will talk about solutions. It is a rare opportunity to have a frank bipartisan conversation about the grave conditions of our Nation's finances.
I am inviting all West Virginians--be it business, labor, senior groups, the young people who are expected to pay off our debt, and anyone else with an interest in our future--to come and participate in this session. We will talk about what this framework will do, which is to find the balance between revenue and spending, fundamentally changing our Tax Code and cutting spending. In short, it will make our system more fair.
Let's look first at the Tax Code. There are some Americans who, because of their connections and ability to hire lobbyists, have manipulated our Tax Code so they get special tax breaks. That is not right. Too many corporations that depend on the strength of this great Nation--as has been noted, such as G.E.--are paying nothing or virtually nothing in taxes. That is wrong. It is not right.
We need to make our tax system more fair and straightforward. The bipartisan Bowles-Simpson plan would end many of those loopholes and lower tax rates for everyone. When it comes to our spending, right now in this country we spend so much more than we can afford. I know so many Americans who tell me they would be more than happy to pay more--if we were using it in the right direction--to pay down our debt and to invest in infrastructure.
But we are not spending well. I have always said public servants can do one or two things with public tax money: We can either spend it or invest it. Frankly, we have been doing too much spending and not enough investing.
Our annual deficit--the amount we spend versus the amount we take in--is about $1.2 trillion this year alone. Looking into the future, if nothing changes, we will have deficits every year for the next decade. No one can tell me we can sustain that pace and still afford Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, defending this Nation, and educating our children. The math doesn't add up. The bipartisan Bowles-Simpson framework addresses this by cutting more than $2 trillion for our spending over the next decade.
After we address our spending and our Tax Code, guess what happens. Our interest payments--the amount we are spending every year just for the privilege of borrowing money from countries such as China to finance our day-to-day operations--will go down nearly $700 billion over the next 10 years.
That is the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson framework. Yes, it will have some painful cuts, and, yes, everyone will have to share in the sacrifice. But because the pain is spread out, no one takes too deep a hit. That is why I believe this proposed blueprint is the only plan that has garnered any real show of bipartisan interest from the beginning of its inception to today.
When I became Governor of the great State of West Virginia, our State finances were in a tough place. We had to make very hard choices about our priorities, and not everyone was happy with those decisions. Seven or eight years ago, people believed West Virginia was hopeless; that we would always be challenged; that our finances would always be on the brink; that we wouldn't be able to invest in our priorities; that our economy would always be stagnant; that our credit ratings would always be miserably low; that we wouldn't be able to turn any of that around.
But I will tell you what. At the end of my term, we had lowered tax rates, reduced our food tax, ended our fiscal years with a budget surplus each and every year, and increased our credit rating three times in 3 years during the greatest recession because we put our priorities based on our values of what was important to West Virginia. Together, we weathered the recession better than 45 States. We are finally getting the last piece of our puzzle in place with a fix to the retirement system.
I can tell you this: I am not talking about fixing our Nation's finances from some ivory tower, from some rigid ideological position. I am talking about this country's finances because I know how much it costs all of us to live in debt. I know the burden of high interest payments and the way it robs us of the opportunity to pay for more important priorities. I know how much stronger this country will be when we manage our debt. I know because we came together in West Virginia and improved the quality of life in our State, and I know we can do it together in this country.
The truth is, Democrats don't have a lock on good ideas and neither do Republicans. But with less than 100 days to go before the election, we are not going to hear many Democrats giving Republicans any credit and we won't hear many Republicans acknowledging that Democrats have anything to bring to the table.
That is a true shame. We will not fix our problems with a go-it-alone attitude because the only way America has ever solved our problems is to put partisanship aside and come together for the good of this great Nation.
Put America first. The West Virginia fiscal summit is just one honest way we can take an important step toward, coming together to solve our problems and one more way for the people of West Virginia to show this great Nation that we can--and will--do the heavy lifting it will take to put this country back on the right track.
I yield the floor.
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