WHEELING - Sen. Joe Manchin is calling on President Barack Obama and legislators on both sides of the aisle to stop playing the blame game and begin working together to solve the nation's jobs crisis.
Expressing frustration at what he sees as a "dysfunctional" and "chaotic" legislative process, Manchin said his vote to bring Obama's $447 billion jobs bill forward for discussion on the Senate floor was not a vote in support of the proposal but one to begin dialogue toward a reasonable compromise. The motion to advance the bill Tuesday failed.
"We have become paralyzed by the filibuster and an unwillingness to work together at all just because of an election cycle. ..." said Manchin, D-W.Va., during a Wednesday conference call with reporters. "It really comes down to politics, and it's being played unmercifully at the highest level.
Sen. Joe Manchin
"I truly believe that if we had an open and healthy debate, we could have improved on this plan. ... We did it in West Virginia, and I know it can work in Washington."
And the leadership necessary to make such a compromise happen, Manchin said, begins in the Oval Office.
"This president has to take the side of the American people and not think about, 'Well, this looks better for a campaign ad in 2012, and I can make you look bad and make me look good,'" he said. "Why don't you try making the whole country look good?"
In Obama's proposal - a combination of roughly $175 billion in infrastructure spending and $270 billion in tax and unemployment relief - Manchin said he found both good ideas as well as components he could not support.
"I would not - and I repeat that, I would not have voted for the passage of that bill without the significant changes that needed to be made," he said.
Regarding funding for infrastructure, Manchin said such projects need to be done to prepare America for economic revitalization. And though he acknowledged the temporary nature of such construction jobs, he said partisan politics is largely responsible for the stagnation of private investment that would create more permanent jobs.
"We will not change this economy until we build confidence. And if you can't have Democrats and Republicans working together to govern themselves in Washington, there will be no confidence," Manchin said.
He also said the "Buffett Rule" component of the bill - a new, minimum tax rate for those earning $1 million per year or more - is something that would make America's tax system more equitable. The moniker is derived from billionaire Warren Buffett's complaints that wealthy Americans pay a lower percentage of their income in taxes.
"I believe our current system is unfair. And when you have people that acknowledge they are paying a lower rate percentage-wise than people that work for them, and they've acknowledged it needs to be fixed, why can't we come together to make that happen?" Manchin said.
But Manchin took issue with a proposed extension and expansion of the payroll tax cut from 2 percent to 3 percent, which he said will cost $240 billion and "hits Social Security right smack in the eye." He also didn't like an included measure to extend unemployment benefits, and said he'd be more inclined to support it if it mandated recipients get retrained to make them more marketable in the work force.
"All we're doing is inevitably setting you up to fail, because the job that you've been out of for two years or two and a half years probably is not coming back," said Manchin.
He would also like to see discussion of rolling back unnecessary U.S. Environmental Protection rules he said are stifling investment.