CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The leader of the state's Catholic Diocese urged Sen. Joe Manchin and "fiscal cliff" negotiators Monday to think about middle- and lower-income West Virginians.
Bishop Michael J. Bransfield's comment came during a discussion titled "People Before Politics" at the John XXIII Pastoral Center in Charleston.
The fiscal cliff refers to the dramatic series of tax hikes and spending cuts set to take place at the beginning of the year if Congress doesn't come up with a different solution. Going over the fiscal cliff is widely predicted to take the nation back into recession.
Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball, of the state Conference of the United Methodist Church, passed out a statement during the gathering, which argued, "The 'fiscal cliff' will begin tax increases and spending cuts that have the potential for making the poor poorer.
"They will reduce or eliminate services to a large number of children and families who already have trouble making ends meet."
The church, Ball stated, "has a responsibility to care for and protect the poor. Effective programs need to be maintained."
"Please consider the impact on middle- and lower-income people in our state," Bransfield said to Manchin, D-W.Va. "You have always been protective of West Virginia. We are counting on you."
Bransfield, head of the Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, said he believes it is particularly important to preserve Head Start, utility assistance funds, substance abuse programs and services to feed seniors.
Manchin stressed he is still discussing and debating what the best solutions to the fiscal cliff problem might be. Some have suggested raising taxes on those whose incomes rank in the top 2 percent.
On Monday, Manchin criticized the tax cuts engineered by President George W. Bush, which helped to undermine the surpluses in the federal budget achieved under President Bill Clinton.
Manchin believes the best solution might involve restoring Clinton tax rates. The Bush tax cuts, Manchin said, were:
• 39.6 percent to 35 percent for the wealthiest fifth of the population.
• 36 percent to 33 percent for the second highest fifth.
• 31 to 28 percent for the middle fifth.
• 28 to 25 percent for the fourth fifth.
• 15 percent to 10 percent for the poorest fifth.
"No one is talking about raising rates higher than they were in 2001," (when Bush took office), Manchin said.
"All the top rates [for the wealthiest Americans] would go back to where they were before Bush."
If those tax rates are restored, Manchin said, they could be increased by a third annually between 2013 and 2015.