Manchin angry at colleagues
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Congress was "throw[ing] in the towel," when it adjourned more than six weeks before the election, leaving on the table legislation that should be worked on.
The Senate remained in session until 1:30 a.m. Saturday, when it adjourned until after the Nov. 6 general election.
Lawmakers will return in about seven weeks and face a crowded list of must-do items, topped by avoiding what's become known as the "fiscal cliff": the combination of expiring George W. Bush-era tax cuts and automatic spending cuts that could drive the country back into recession.
Two years of rancor and a divided government resulted in one of the least-productive Congresses in history.
"The simple truth is: how much longer should we work on a temporary basis? When is enough enough? There's not a soul in West Virginia who is begging us to come home and campaign," Manchin said.
Congress did manage to pass some measures before adjourning, including its 13th temporary spending measure in less than two years that will allow federal spending to continue even though a budget was not passed.
This temporary spending measure will remain in effect for six months, funding government operations until March 27, 2013.
The legislation also extends a spending cap Congress passed last year to reduce the deficit and prevent federal spending from exceeding certain limits.
"This was an important vote for the American people and for Congress to keep the federal government operations working and make sure that West Virginians are able to get needed services," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. "It's also a responsible bill that supports West Virginians, shows we can work together, and reduces the deficit following the guidelines Congress passed last year to set the country on a path of fiscal discipline."
The nation will have to wait until after the election for Congress to deal with taxes, spending cuts, the farm bill and the cash-strapped Postal Service. It comes as no surprise to lawmakers that their public approval has plummeted to about 12 percent.
"I literally get on a plane with a baseball hat and hope to God nobody knows who I am, because they're just going to yell at me," two-term Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., said Friday as lawmakers prepared to flee the Capitol.
After the election is over, Rockefeller said, he hopes that "Republicans will stop their obstructionist tactics and compromise on needed bills to support our veterans, prevent domestic violence, address the fiscal cliff and create jobs."
Over the past six years, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has overcome 382 filibusters to pass Senate bills. If filibusters do not end voluntarily, 60 senators must vote to pass any piece of legislation, rather than just a simple majority of the 100-member body.
"I believe we can come together to create jobs, decrease the deficit, and avoid the fiscal cliff," Rockefeller said. "These issues are too important for politics to win out."
Manchin has criticized Congress several times recently for adjourning without passing a new budget, including in a speech he delivered on the Senate floor Thursday.
On Friday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., were joined by several dozen other Democrats on the Capitol steps.
Pelosi said, "We're here standing together to say that, since August 3, when Congress adjourned, and November 13, when we are called back into session, we will have been in session only eight days.
"That's just not right. Democrats are prepared to stay until we get the job done. That's what we're elected to do, to get the job done."
In a statement released Saturday, Manchin said, "Our debt is growing nearly $5 billion every single business day - that's about $150 billion between now and the election -- but instead of tackling our finances, lawmakers are punching their tickets out of town . . . .
"Sooner or later, we're going to have to do something. By passing this temporary measure to allow people to go campaign, we're forfeiting even more time."
Rockefeller said he is "proud" of legislation the Senate did pass, including bills such as "the Surface Transportation Bill to improve our roads and highways and the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization, which protects rural air service in the state."
The Senate approved several pieces of legislation of particular importance to West Virginia, Rockefeller said, including:
• Maintaining funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which recently gave West Virginia and other states critical support needed to recover from the severe effects of "derecho" storms in late June and early July.
• Continued funding for C-23 Sherpa aircraft, preventing the Defense Department from retiring the planes. The National Guard's training site in Clarksburg was at risk of losing its four C-23s.
The same bill prevents the U.S. Air Force from retiring the recently deployed Global Hawk Block 30 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Aircraft, parts of which are manufactured in Bridgeport by Aurora Flight Sciences.
• Keeping Abandoned Mine Land legislation that finances environmental restoration of lands abandoned by coal companies in West Virginia and other states.
• Extending the federal welfare-reform program that provides Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. TANF helps pay for child care and other work-support services to families and to single working parents.
Without this extension, the welfare reform program would have expired Sept. 30. During the next six months, West Virginia will receive about $55 million in TANF money to help working parents.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Reach Paul J. Nyden at email@example.com or 304-348-5164.