WHEELING - Sen. Joe Manchin said he will support the bipartisan budget deal reached Tuesday evening by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash.
The deal, if passed by both houses of Congress, would avert another partial government shutdown on Jan. 15, the date the continuing resolution passed in October to reopen the government after a 16-day shutdown is set to expire. It could come up for a vote in the House today and in the Senate by this weekend.
The budget bill would set discretionary spending for the 2014 fiscal year at $1.012 trillion. This total does not include non-discretionary entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and others, which make up about two-thirds of total spending.
It is expected to provide between $20-23 billion of net deficit reduction over the next 10 years. The deficit for the 2013 budget year alone was $680 billion. But Manchin, D-W.Va., believes the two-year budget needs to move forward to restore "orderly business" and allow Congress to tackle more substantive reforms.
"This is not a large deal," Manchin said. "Anybody that says (Congress is) kicking the can down the road, they did. ... We need to face, eventually, realization that we've got to do a much bigger fix. ... I'm going to take what we have in front of us and move forward with it."
The bill will reduce the sequester - automatic, across-the-board budget cuts - by $63 billion over the next two years, split equally between defense and non-defense spending. But another $85 billion in spending would be cut by increasing new federal employees' contributions to their own pension programs, gradually reducing cost-of-living adjustments for able-bodied, working-age military retirees and eliminating waste and fraud identified in government programs.
Other measures include increased surcharges on airplane tickets to fund the Transportation Security Administration, discontinuing the practice of allowing energy producers to pay royalties owed to the federal government in petroleum instead of cash and reducing the maximum allowable reimbursement to government contractors for senior executive compensation packages from almost $1 million to $470,000.
For Manchin, the lack of any type of tax reform in the budget proposal is a glaring omission. But he said the deal is preferable to merely passing another in a series of short-term continuing resolutions in order to keep government running, and he believes the bill will garner enough support for passage.
"There's concerns on both sides. With that being said, I think they all realize it's a positive step. ... It's hard to run a country the way we've been running it for the last five years," Manchin said.
Manchin believes it's possible to raise additional revenue without increasing tax rates, by simplifying the tax code and closing loopholes including the mortgage interest deduction and measures that allow companies to move jobs and assets overseas to avoid paying taxes in the United States.
"That's not right, that's not fair and it's not American," he said.
Manchin also believes that for any meaningful tax reform to take place, it must start with President Barack Obama.
"There has to be leadership at the top. The president has to want it," Manchin said. "That can be his legacy, to get our financial house back in order."
Manchin pointed out that 2014 is a big election year, with the potential for many leadership positions to be up for grabs. As a result, he believes, many in Congress would rather wait until after next November to make some of the tough choices that they will be facing.
"Out of sight, out of mind. ... That's a sad fact of what we're dealing with," Manchin said.