WHEELING - The main focus of the 113th Congress sworn into office Thursday is "to fix the finances," and that means addressing the nation's spending issues, said Sen. Joe Manchin.
He added it's "going to be a tough couple of months" as lawmakers work to avoid automatic spending cuts to the federal budget delayed 60 days by "fiscal cliff" legislation passed by Congress this week.
Manchin, D-W.Va., voted in favor of the deal that extends George W. Bush-era tax breaks for Americans earning less than $450,000 annually - but which contains no references to reducing federal spending.
Manchin unveiled his priorities for the next two years during a teleconference with reporters in West Virginia this week and said his vote New Year's Day in favor of fiscal cliff legislation was one of the most difficult he has had to cast while in elected office.
"I looked at all the scenarios - the things I thought would be very devastating, and also the things I thought would be helpful," he said. "But when it came down to it, I was determined to make sure hard-working West Virginians didn't face the most harmful aspects of the cliff. That would have been having all their rates raised.
"I think of this deal as the good, the bad and the ugly. The good is the Senate voted to keep more than 94 percent of West Virginians from facing any kind of tax hike. The bad is we need to do so much more to address our spending cuts and our entitlement reforms and to put our finances back in order, which this did not do. We're going to be back in the same position in two months because we are still dealing with politics that are extremely broken."
Manchin also pointed to what he thought were the positives of the fiscal cliff legislation. These included the extension of child tax credits and student loan deductions, as well as credits for the training of mine service rescue teams and mine equipment purchases.
The Returning Heroes and Wounded Warriors Work Opportunity tax credit for businesses hiring veterans also was maintained, Manchin added.
But he said he would continue to push for more spending cuts.
"You can't continue to have more than a $1 trillion deficit each year in the operation of this government and have a national debt of $16 trillion and climbing - and have anything that's going to give you any certainty for prosperity," he said.
After solving the nation's financial problems, he believes achieving North American energy independence is necessary.
"I believe very strongly that we as a nation can't move forward without an all-in approach using all of our natural resources - including coal, oil, natural gas and developing renewable resources," Manchin said.
Keeping promises made to seniors and veterans regarding benefits also will be "extremely important," he said.
Manchin also intends to keep pushing for an end to American military involvement in Afghanistan.
"We need to get out of that country as soon as humanly possible," he said.
Congress also needs to consider the issue of violence in society, Manchin added. He said he and other senators will introduce a bill recommending establishment of a national commission to address violence in America.