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Rockefeller, Manchin cast opposite votes on debt ceiling

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Last March, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was the first Senate Democrat to announce he would vote against raising the federal debt ceiling "without a long-term fix in place."

On Thursday, Manchin voted for legislation that would have blocked a $1.2 trillion increase in the debt ceiling, allowing the national debt to reach $16.4 trillion by the end of 2012. The measure lost by a vote of 52-44.

For the first time since World War II, Manchin said, U.S. debt exceeds the nation's annual gross domestic product.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has consistently supported raising the debt ceiling to help reinvigorate the economy.

"Failing to raise the debt ceiling," Rockefeller said, "would lead to a weaker economy, slash American jobs, hurt people's retirement savings, and raise interest rates on loans and credit cards. It is not an option."

Thursday's vote will allow the debt ceiling to rise automatically, without any additional congressional action, throughout 2012.

Manchin and Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., were the only two Democrats among the 44 senators who voted against the $1.2 trillion increase.

Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., was the only Republican who joined 49 Democrats in supporting the increase, along with two independents: Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.

On Thursday, Rockefeller said, "Last summer, the argument advanced by some who advocated having the United States default on our debts caused our market to spiral out of control.

"Thankfully, Democrats and Republicans finally agreed to raise the debt ceiling in three steps until 2013. This new bill would undermine that compromise.

"Congress has taken strong steps to reduce the deficit and restore our fiscal solvency, including passing over $2 trillion in budget cuts this year, and will do more. But it's unacceptable to damage the credit rating of this country," Rockefeller said.

Manchin wants to see a long-term fix to pull the nation out of debt.

"Last fall, I was hopeful that the [debt] supercommittee would succeed, but it did not," Manchin said. "Since then, our leaders have done nothing to develop a meaningful, long-term solution to address our nation's debt and deficits.

"So today, I cannot in good conscience vote to raise the debt ceiling to an unprecedented $16.4 trillion in the absence of any real fix or pathway to a real fix."

Manchin cited Adm. Mike Mullen, a former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, who testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee last February, "I believe that our debt is the greatest threat to our national security.

"If we as a country do not address our fiscal imbalances in the near term, our national power will erode, and the costs to our ability to maintain and sustain influence could be great," Mullen said.

Manchin said the debt is not a Democratic or Republican problem, "it's an American problem."

"Since both parties share blame for creating it, we must work together to fix it," he said.

By 2021, our national debt will reach $21 trillion if current policies continue, Manchin said, which will mean the nation will spend more to pay interest on that debt than on education, energy and defense.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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