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Jay, Joe say they will support budget deal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, both D-W.Va.,  support the budget deal reached Tuesday night that would reverse about one-third of the automatic budget cuts scheduled to go into effect over the next two years while also bringing in additional revenue from federal workers and increased fees on airplane tickets.

The deal raises revenue, but not taxes, and it does not make any major changes to Medicare or Social Security. It also does not extend emergency unemployment benefits scheduled to expire for 1.3 million Americans, including 6,300 West Virginians, on Dec. 28.

Reps. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., and David McKinley, R-W.Va., declined to say Wednesday if they would support the budget deal, saying they were still reviewing it.

The House could vote on the budget deal -- brokered by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. -- as soon as Thursday and the Senate could vote as soon as this weekend.

"The budget deal announced [Tuesday] night represents a somewhat positive step for our country by partly mitigating the damage inflicted by the sequester's painful and irrational cuts," Rockefeller said in a statement. "The proposal is far from perfect but such is the nature of compromise.  . . .

"By arbitrarily and severely cutting federal spending without any regard for its merit, the sequester has inflicted real damage to the fabric of our state and our nation," Rockefeller said. "This deal reflects the fact that the majority of my colleagues in the Senate share my view that it is time to move on from the sequester, even if only one step at a time."

Manchin said he would vote "yes" because the deal moves Congress back to the regular process of passing annual budgets, rather than stopgap continuing resolutions.

"Is it moving in the right direction? Yes. I could sit here and curse the darkness and do nothing," Manchin said in a conference call Wednesday. "The easiest thing I can do is vote 'no.' You don't ask as many questions if I vote 'no' on everything."

The agreement, the Bipartisan Budget Act, would reinstate about $40 billion in discretionary spending in 2014, that is to be cut by the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration. In 2015, it would reinstate about $23 billion in scheduled sequestration cuts. The changes represent about a 3 percent increase in discretionary spending over existing law.

The increases will be evenly split between defense and nondefense spending.

More than 71 percent of the sequester's scheduled cuts for 2014 and 2015 will still go into effect and the sequester's full cuts are still scheduled to go in for 2016 and beyond.

Manchin called the sequester's cuts "draconian" and said this agreement gives some relief for two years.

The agreement would bring in about $85 billion in new revenue, much of it by requiring federal employees, future federal employees in particular, to contribute more to their pension plans.

Retired members of the military under age 62 would see a decrease in benefits as the deal reduces cost-of-living adjustments to their pensions.

The deal would more than double fees charged by the Transportation Security Administration, to $11.20 per round-trip flight.

Manchin said this agreement should be viewed as a "building block" on the way to a bigger budget deal, one focused on tax reform that would not raise rates but would close loopholes.

He said there are dozens of loopholes he'd like to close but mentioned, specifically, the carried-interest exemption, which taxes the earnings of partners at private investment funds at about half the rate as regular income.

"There's got to be fairness to the system. I don't begrudge anybody, no matter how much they make, as long as they don't get a 20 percent break on their taxes to do it," Manchin said.

Manchin would not say if he supports extending emergency unemployment benefits, which are scheduled to expire at the end of December.

Rockefeller said in his statement that the deal is an "opportunity to reinstate important funding for programs vital to the well-being of thousands of West Virginia families." That includes programs such as Head Start, Meals on Wheels and public safety programs, such as COPS.

However, he criticized House Republicans' resistance to extending unemployment benefits for jobless Americans, calling the decision a shortsighted and costly mistake "that will leave millions without any of the resources they need to support their families.

"And although the bill raises a modest level of new revenues through user fees that individuals will have to pay, we will not solve our long-term budget issues without significant new tax revenues from the wealthiest Americans," Rockefeller said.

Rahall cited the failure to extend unemployment benefits as a primary concern with the deal, calling it a "glaring defect."

West Virginia offers 54 weeks of benefits to the unemployed. That number will fall to 26 weeks as emergency benefits expire.

That means about 16,000 West Virginians will lose benefits in the first six months of 2014, according to a study by House Democrats.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday he would push to extend the benefits when Congress reconvenes in January.

Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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