Congressional Delegation Addresses Chamber

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. - All five members West Virginia's United States Congressional delegation addressed those in attendance Thursday at the 2015 West Virginia Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting and Business Summit.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Sen Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., along with Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., and Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., spoke about what is being done in Washington to benefit West Virginia, the importance of bipartisanship, the state's energy industries, and infrastructure, to name a few.

The bulk of Manchin's speech to Chamber members dealt with the successes of bipartisanship in the current Senate.

"The toxic atmosphere we live in is not right," he said. "It's not bipartisanship on how you get things done, it's bipartisanship on who you blame. We are playing the blame game right now and it's ridiculous. We've got to fix this. If you want to blame the Democrats, go ahead. If you want to blame the Republicans, go ahead. We are all at fault. The problems we have, we have all attributed to."

Dating back to Reagan's administration, Manchin said, there is a pattern showing bipartisanship works for the betterment of the country.

"Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neil made things happen because they put this country first," he said. "In 1997 Bill Clinton, with a Republican Congress, put a budget together that balanced, and not only that, created a surplus in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001."

For the first time since 1946, Manchin said, the country's national debt is equivalent to 100 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

"This is totally self-inflicted," he said. "It's got to change, and we can't get anyone to be serious about the debt we have. We are still running a half a trillion dollar debt every year and people think that's great because it used to be $1.3 trillion."

The country's current generation has the chance to achieve a milestone, but not one that would likely be celebrated, Manchin said.

"If we don't do better everyone in this room will be part of the first generation to hand over the reins to the next generation (an economy) in worse shape than we received it," he said. "Our parents didn't give it to us in this shape, our grandparent didn't give it to them in this shape, and we have no right to think we can give it to our children and our grandchildren in worse shape than we got it."

Capito said the Senate's bipartisanship has opened doors previously closed by partisan politics.

"Before I got there it was gridlocked, there was nothing getting done," she said. "The environment in the Senate now, while not perfect, certainly is better."

Capito said 160 amendments have been voted on since this control of the Senate shifted to the Republicans this past January, which is 10 times more than all amendments voted on in 2014.

"As a result we have had more than 80 bipartisan bills and nearly 50 of those have been signed into law by the president," she said.

Manchin said not only is bipartisanship working in Washington, but it should always work.

"Put your country first, your politics second, and yourself third," he said. "It works well and that's what we try to do."

Capito outlined the importance of the six-year highway bill, which would provide $2.8 billion to West Virginia for infrastructure improvements.

"More than 300 bridges in West Virginia are considered faulty or inferior as are many more bridges across the country," she said. "Not only that, the bill will create jobs. It's the way of the future and it fixes our infrastructure.”

West Virginia's energy industries - coal, oil and natural gas - are under "serious assault," Capito said, and the results of the attack are "mind-boggling."

"We have seen our unemployment rate go up until it is now the highest in the country," Capito said. "The regulatory environment coming out of (the Obama Administration) is at the face of losing so many jobs. It's not just the industry, but the ancillary business that are struggling to hang on."

One of the more important facets to improving West Virginia's economic future is increasing residents' broadband Internet access, Capito said. She created the Capito Connect Plan, which focuses on collecting input and ideas for improving connectivity in the Mountain State.

"If you don't have broadband," she said, "then you are out."

Jenkins said the fight everyone has been in together for the past two decades is creating an attractive business climate in West Virginia.

"We need to fix our taxes, fix our regulatory environment, fix our Wall Street abuse and fix workers' compensation," he said. "Work has been done, but each and every one of us know, we have long way to go."

West Virginia ranks last in the nation in workforce participation among adults. A good job, Jenkins said, would solve a lot of people's problems.

"We are challenged with so many social issues out there, and if we can get people to work it would make a big difference in our state."

By:  Brandon Roberts
Source: Herald-Dispatch