WHEELING - Local lawmakers seek to restore the public's faith in Congress as members work to steer the nation away from a "fiscal cliff" in the last days of the 112th Congress.
Some fear scheduled cuts to defense spending at the end of the year will compromise national security. Others believe reductions in federal government spending are necessary, and that reforms to the U.S. tax code must occur.
"The fiscal cliff is as real today as it was before the election," said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. "I am hopeful Congress will come together as Americans. We've got to work together. We have to fix this thing."
He believes Americans lack confidence in Congress, and that members must work now to build their trust. Manchin said lawmakers should first take steps to fix the nation's tax code.
President Barack Obama has suggested allowing tax cuts on the richest Americans expire as a way to generate more tax revenue and avoid the fiscal cliff. And Democratic leadership in Congress has suggested allowing the nation to "fall" over the fiscal cliff at the end of the year - giving them more bargaining position in 2013 as Republicans seek to regain those tax cuts.
"It's about more than just making the rich pay a higher share," Manchin said. "There should be a fairness throughout the code. We should work to bring stability and fairness to the personal and corporate tax codes. We also have to address spending - it's time to reign it in. Just like families, once we decide what our values are, and what our priorities are, we will be fine."
Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, defined the fiscal cliff as the combination of the expiring across-the-board tax cuts, sequestration reductions that make sweeping cuts to our national defense, and the debate over whether to raise the national debt limit.
"It is critically important that we take action to prevent the looming tax hike on all Americans, and the deep defense cuts from taking effect," Johnson said. "Our still fragile economy can not withstand more roadblocks put in its path by Washington as small businesses struggle to emerge from the blizzard of tax hikes and regulations placed on them during the last four years. We can't afford more job losses as unemployment continues to hover around 8 percent."
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, suggests Congress could cut $20 billion in spending by ending subsidies to big oil companies; another $20 billion by consolidating existing farm programs; $19.5 billion by closing tax loopholes for companies that ship jobs overseas; and $23 billion by ending tax breaks for hedge fund managers.
"Sen. Brown believes that Republicans and Democrats must work together on a balanced approach that reduces the deficit while promoting economic development and job creation and protecting Medicare and Social Security," said Allison Priess, Brown spokeswoman. "This balanced approach should not only reduce spending, but also ask millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share.
"The Senate passed legislation to prevent taxes from rising for Americans making less than $250,000, and he believes the House should act on this legislation immediately."
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., is optimistic Congress will find a way to stop the scheduled tax hikes and drastic across-the-board tax cuts from going into effect at the end of the year.
"Raising taxes will destroy 700,000 jobs, and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says severe defense cuts would be a 'disaster,'" she said. "No one wants to see this happen. I hope we can work together to find a workable solution. I have also advocated for creating a path forward for comprehensive tax reform to make the code simpler and fairer."
Capito added the economy isn't growing fast enough, and unemployment is "simply too high."
"This election season seemed to last forever, and by the end of it Americans were fed up with the partisanship," she said. "They're looking for us to work together to find solutions to problems. I was pleased to see that both Speaker Boehner's and President Obama's first post-election speeches struck a bipartisan tone; I hope this conciliatory tone lasts."
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., also expressed optimism.
"There is no reason why we can't avert this fiscal cliff," he said. "I've been working at it nearly full time, and do see some positive signs in recent days. A final plan may not come together exactly by year's end, but I am confident it can and will happen in short order.
"I'm urging my colleagues to focus on solutions that keep the economy growing, help those who are still struggling, and put us on a solid fiscal path without hurting hard-working families and seniors in West Virginia and across the country. Real compromise means asking everyone to pay their fair share, and right now those at the top end aren't doing that, which is why Republicans' new willingness to talk about revenues is an important first step."