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We Can Do It. Why Can’t They?

November 26, 2011
By Mike Myer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

No doubt some of Sen. Joe Manchin's peers have told him he just doesn't understand. The junior senator from West Virginia is new, in office only about a year. At some point he'll come to realize there's a big difference between the federal government and his tiny, poor state, Capitol Hill veterans may tell him.

Some of them may even believe that. That's part of the problem in Washington.

Last weekend Manchin, D-W.Va., appeared on a Sunday television talk show. He expressed his frustration the so-called "super committee" in Congress had been unable to agree on a way to reduce deficit spending. That panel's target was modest - $120 billion a year, or about 3 percent of what the government spends.

Here's part of what Manchin, who was governor of West Virginia until about a year ago, said:

In his state, "we had financial challenges. But you have to step forward. You have to put your politics aside. It can't be about 'Are you a good Democrat or a good Republican?' We needed to be a good West Virginian and now we need to be a good American. ... This is not the way we ran our state in West Virginia."

That gigantic chuckling sound you heard was the political establishment in Washington, reacting to Manchin's comments.

What would West Virginians, of all people, know about high finance in government? Manchin just doesn't understand. We'll have to educate him. There's a big difference between his state budget and federal spending.

Not really, except in terms of how much more is wasted in Washington.

Manchin didn't have to worry about entitlement spending, his detractors no doubt said. Baloney. Washington has Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.

But West Virginia pays a share of Medicaid - and we have no choice in how much. The federal government dictates how Medicaid works here.

And we have plenty of entitlements of our own, in the form of public employee pension and health care programs. Let's look at that:

Members of Congress have refused steadfastly to consider entitlement reform. Here in West Virginia, we've been making the hard choices - and politicians have been taking flak from blocs of voters - for years. The Public Employees Insurance Agency has reduced benefits several times in order to keep the books balanced. Even as Congress dithers this month, the PEIA is holding public hearings on a new round of cost-cutting measures.

But the federal government has responsibilities, such as defense, states don't have to worry about. True - to an extent. But states have obligations the feds don't, too.

Take highway and bridge maintenance. It is primarily a state responsibility. West Virginia doesn't have nearly enough money to do the job adequately. We'll have to find ways to handle it - on our own.

Down through the years - primarily under Democrat governors and with the Legislature controlled by that party, it should be noted - we in the Mountain State have tackled any number of programs that threatened to wreck our budget. Workers' compensation, teachers' retirement, and public employee health care are a few.

Name one major federal program Congress and presidents of both parties have gotten under control.

I'm waiting ...

Would Manchin, while governor, have liked announcing a multi-billion-dollar "jobs program" for the state? Of course. He could envision the votes rolling in from it.

But he didn't even suggest such a thing. Legislators would have thought he'd lost his mind.

In fairness, though, it needs to be noted there is one very big difference between federal government finances and those in West Virginia.

Here in the Mountain State, our "rainy day" funds - money held in reserve for government emergencies - total more than $800 million.

In contrast, the federal government has run up a national debt of more than $15 trillion.

There's a difference, all right.

Myer can be reached via email at:

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