WHEELING - U.S. Senate candidate Joe Manchin says if elected, he will not be a "rubber stamp" for President Barack Obama.
In fact, Manchin, a Democrat, told the Sunday News-Register he opposes many of Obama's initiatives - particularly those that are detrimental to West Virginia. He also doesn't support the federal government's expanding role under the Obama administration.
"We have a different mind set," Manchin said when asked about his relationship with the president. "We're just different. I don't believe in (government) overreaching to the point where you should be dependent on government to do for you, and to tell you how to do it. We don't do that in West Virginia. We try to hold you responsible and accountable. ...
"I do not support that (entitlement) kind of attitude."
Manchin, who is West Virginia's current governor, sees himself as a candidate who can bring business and labor together, as well as Republicans and Democrats.
"I can sit down and get along with everybody," he said. "But there's no one ... that can change me. Especially when I can show successes (as governor) that they can't show.
"Everyone tries guilt by association. But nobody has ever accused me of going along to get along. ... In the spirit of Sen. (Robert C.) Byrd, I don't care if a president is a Democrat or Republican. When they're wrong for West Virginia, they're just wrong. I'm going to fight that."
The Sunday News-Register asked both Manchin and his Republican opponent, Morgantown businessman John Raese, for their views on questions ranging from the health care reform bill to the so-called Cap and Trade legislation to Social Security.
Manchin expressed concern with the health care reform bill, and noted instead of repealing it he would look to keep portions of the health care bill agreeable to both Democrats and Republicans. If that's not possible, he said he would vote to "kill the bill."
Manchin identified three areas of the health care bill that he agrees with. "I want children who don't have insurance now because of a pre-existing condition to be covered. I want people who couldn't buy insurance to be able to buy it. I want people who are ill and have insurance to keep their insurance while we get them healed - and not have a cap where they are cut off. Those are the things I truly believes Democrats and Republicans agree on.
"I would say this, why don't you repeal those things we all don't agree on - the overreaching part of government? ... If you can't fix it, then you kill the entire thing and start over."
Manchin did note that meaningful health care reform needs to be a priority.
"I do not think that there's a working person in West Virginia who should not have affordable health care. I will work ... to have affordable health care for West Virginia, but you don't want the government overreaching. Those things can be worked out and repealed. We do it every day with legislation.
"They can absolutely be sure I will vote to repeal the whole thing unless we can find common ground and common sense. That's going to be Democrats and Republicans that are willing to be Americans first and fix it. If not, scrap it, and then we will have to live with the consequences."
Manchin said he does not support removing the secret ballot provision for workers, and that government has no place in dictating labor contracts.
Manchin called the secret ballot vote "the most precious thing you own."
"I've said publicly that ... we must retain the secrecy of the ballot. It's your vote, and only you should have knowledge of how you do that," he said.
Another provision of the proposed card check law calls for a government arbitrator to resolve contractual disputes between a company and a union.
"My response to that is that the government has no right to be involved in contractual disputes between an organizing body and the company they are working with," Manchin commented. "That's why you have collective bargaining. You sit down and bargain.
"Once you ratify and certify that you recognize the bargaining, then you sit down and work your contract out. Government should not be involved."
Manchin did say he believes there needs to be "more of a level playing field" when it comes to certifying unions.
"There seems to be this perception that there is not a level playing field anymore. And I think I can simplify it by saying if there is a successful organizing drive ... I think what (the unions) are asking - what they feel would be fair - is that the ratification would happen. The way things have happened in so many instances, is that it just drags on forever through court appeals and cases."
Manchin said he opposes the federal cap and trade legislation. He said he has been going "toe to toe" with the Obama administration over the legislation and what it could do to the state.
Manchin said he has addressed the issue personally with the president.
"I said, with all due respect, you are completely wrong on cap and trade - and what it will do not only to my state, but to the nation. Then I went through a litany of things with the president. We went toe to toe on this."
He said he told Obama that many Americans depend on coal as their primary energy source, and that taxes and regulation could not be placed upon it to the point that it increases costs.
"That is absolutely wrong," he said. "... They are trying to put so many taxes and regulations on the use of coal that it makes no sense at all. ... If you're going to fix something, have a policy that fixes it."
As the cap and trade legislation sits stalled in the U.S. Senate, Manchin acknowledges that federal agencies may themselves look to implement its policies.
"We're not just fighting the president, but his agencies that are overextending their authority," he said. "They are trying to regulate what they can't legislate."
Manchin said that as a U.S. senator, he would propose legislation to prohibit government agencies from imposing policies unless there is corresponding "legislative agreement and findings."
"As U.S. senator, I will not stand by and let any federal agency usurp the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the sovereignty and the rights of the states to govern for themselves," he said. "We should be working with them from Washington - with every state as their partner. That is not happening."
Manchin said he supports natural gas drilling in West Virginia, but wants to ensure it is done safely and that state workers are trained to handle jobs in the industry.
He also said the state currently is looking at how best to promote natural gas as a clean energy alternative.
"We think this is a tremendous opportunity for the U.S. and for West Virginia," he said of drilling in the Marcellus Shale. "And I'm doing what I can to make sure we get some jobs out of this, and (drilling companies) are not just bringing people from other states."
Manchin noted one of the most important aspects for West Virginia will be to get training programs in place at technical schools and community colleges so that state workers can learn to do the future jobs in the industry.
Concerning a series of natural gas leaks and explosions that have occurred recently in Marshall County, Manchin said he has directed the state Department of Environmental Protection to take measures to assure safety in the natural gas industry.
"There is so much (drilling) activity that it has overgrown the ability to have the proper oversight," he said, noting the DEP is "moving rapidly" in its efforts to ensure drilling safety.
Manchin said he would, as he believes that instead of raising taxes, government needs to reduce spending.
He said that as governor, he never sought to raise taxes "until I tried everything I could to run government more efficiently."
"And not only were we able not to ask you for more taxes, we reduced taxes because we were able to get our financial house in order. I'm going to take a game plan to Washington to show how it works. That's what my opponents haven't been able to show, because they haven't done it," he said.
"I've been able to do it in a political environment, making everyone toe the line. You commit yourself to paying down debt and cutting state government, you don't add any more workers, and make sure the ratio of public to private workers is in sync. We did it through attrition and discipline."
Manchin said this financial discipline enabled the state to reduce the food tax from 6 percent to 3 percent, and many business taxes were cut.
"I know it will work," Manchin said of cutting government spending. "We have a proven track record."
He also promises to introduce legislation requiring a federal balanced budget amendment if elected to the Senate.
"If they can't help themselves, then they should have the good sense to vote for something that will at least keep them in check," Manchin commented.
Manchin said he does support the Obama administration's education initiatives.
"Of all the things I've been fighting this president - the EPA, cap and trade, the over-extension of government - this (issue) is one they have taken square on. I have never seen another administration take (education) on like this, asking for results, willing to reward for results," he said.
Manchin said if the nation's education system doesn't improve soon, "within one and one-half generations we might not be a world power because we haven't attained the education levels we need to compete worldwide. This is the most alarming thing I've seen."
What's at issue isn't that America no longer leads in education, Manchin said.
"It's how fast and how far we have fallen," he said. "If this doesn't shake you to the core, nothing will. And if you think the same old, same old is going to get it, it won't."
He lamented that the West Virginia Legislature this year failed to pass into law many of the suggested changes to the state's education policy that he proposed through legislation.
Manchin said he would push for fiscal discipline with the programs, along with personal responsibility as it pertains to Medicaid.
"We must protect Social Security," he said. "You can't rob from Social Security, then say we want to throw everyone into a private plan. ... That is so wrong.
"I didn't do that in our (state) pension funds. You have to commit to the people paying into it."
Manchin also said it is imperative to control growth in the programs, and also to reduce the size of the federal government to save money.
"And you have to grow this economy," he said. "Through attrition you can reduce the size of government. We did it (in West Virginia), and nobody missed a beat.
"We didn't fire anybody. We started consolidating. And as people started to retire and leave, we had a 10 percent turnover every year. We were able to control the growth at tremendous savings."
Manchin also pointed to his Mountain Health Choices waiver provision, which saves money in the state's Medicaid program "because I can hold people accountable and responsible."
Mountain Health "says if you are a healthy person who is financially challenged, and you need help from the state, then you're going to have some responsibilities to meet."
"I don't think there's anything wrong with (holding people accountable). If they want to take me on, take me on," he said in reference to the federal government's new health care law, which would eliminate personal responsibility from health care.
"Think about this. We've got people who are capable of getting back into the work force. If they don't know that they are going to be held responsible and accountable for their own actions, go to the doctor for visits checkups, go to the wellness center, be responsible, if they are not required to do that I guarantee you I can't get them ready to go back into the work force. And I need more people in this work pool."
Manchin also said he has questioned the logic behind the current federal Children's Health Insurance Program.
"It makes no sense to me," he said of CHIP. "You're allowing me to cover all these children with working parents who don't have insurance. You're allowing me to cover them, but you're saying I can only take care of them when they're really sick or something happens?
"Why don't you allow me to intervene and have wellness checkups for these children - kindergarten, second, fifth and eighth grades - so I can give you a healthy workforce? I know if something is going on with their bodies, and I can help them. Weight and obesity - I can start taking care of them at an early age so they don't develop Type 2 Diabetes."