CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., have spent the past couple of days talking and releasing statements about their priorities for the new session of Congress.
Rockefeller said he plans to stand up for low- and middle-income families and to require the wealthiest Americans to "pay their fair share."
Rockefeller will "fight to close the historic income divide that has and continues to weigh heavily on our economy, and unfairly burdens so many West Virginia families," according to a statement released late Wednesday.
Rockefeller is also committed to reducing the federal deficit, and believes the "country's largest mega-corporations and the ultra wealthy to share the responsibility for getting our economy back on track."
Rockefeller plans to continue opposing proposed legislation that would disproportionately cut the federal deficit "on the backs of seniors, individuals with disabilities and families struggling to make ends meet."
In a statement released on Wednesday, Manchin said, "I have proposed legislation that West Virginians care about the most -- getting our financial house in order; keeping our promises to our seniors, veterans and children; achieving energy independence; addressing mass violence in a way that brings all parties to the table and finally ending the war in Afghanistan."
In a telephone press conference on Thursday, Manchin said a top priority is to "get your financial house in order" during this Congressional session.
"We will do whatever we can to make sure our country is energy independent - using coal and Marcellus gas and renewables -- wind and solar energy and biofuels....
"We must also be ending the war in Afghanistan. I am not letting up on that. It is an absolutely horrible war," Manchin said.
"We will have to fight a war on terrorists to prevent them from doing harm to America and Americans. If that means using our drones in the most dangerous areas, I would very much approve of that."
Both Rockefeller and Manchin spoke about the sharp divisions in Congress.
"The partisan divides in Washington may be as strong as ever, but I truly believe that we can put our differences aside to tackle serious problems our great country faces," Rockefeller said.
"I have been dedicated to making sure that hard-working families in West Virginia get a fair shake," Rockefeller said. "We must decide how to provide retirement security to millions of Americans, including those left without health care or pensions when their companies go bankrupt or ship jobs overseas.
"And, we must decide to move our health system forward through a health reform law that gives us many tools to improve the quality and availability of health care."
On Wednesday, the House passed "The No Budget, No Pay Act," requiring Congress to pass a budget by April 15 and to temporarily extend the federal debt ceiling through May 19.
If the House or Senate fails to reach a budget agreement by April 15, members of that chamber will not get paid.
Manchin is a co-sponsor of the "No Budget, No Pay" bill in the Senate.
Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., said on Thursday, "Although somewhat gimmicky, the measure will help to defuse the brinkmanship that has dominated our nation's fiscal and economic policies of late.
"The House of Representatives, at least for the time being, is rejecting the reckless political stratagem of holding our nation's public credit hostage in order to demand budgetary concessions. It is a clear sign that sensible leaders of both parties are working to ensure that the U.S. government honors its debt obligations."
Both Rockefeller and Manchin support legislation and government oversight to protect senior citizens from consumer scams and dishonest internet schemes.
Both will also fight for stricter regulations and oversight over prescription drugs, like hydrocodone, that are being so widely abused.
On a Thursday morning radio talk show, Manchin said he will back stricter rules for background checks on people who purchase guns.
Asked whether he would support requiring private dealers, who sell weapons at gun shows and other places, to make the same federally-required checks made by legitimate businesses, Manchin said he would.
"I think that's common sense. Why would a legitimate gun retail shop have to go through that," Manchin asked, "but ... someone at a gun show doesn't?"
During his teleconference, Manchin said he will support the White House nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., to become Secretary of Defense.
"Hagel visited me yesterday evening," Manchin said. "I had not known him before that.... I feel comfortable that he has the same concerns I have -- protecting our greatest ally, Israel, and making sure Iran does not have a nuclear weapon."
Manchin will also support the Violence Against Women Act and a military child care bill to oversee contracts and hiring procedures in day-care centers serving children of those in military service, including those on overseas assignments.
Responding to a question, Manchin said he has not seen "Buckwild," the new weekly reality show, based in Sissonville and aired nationally by MTV.
Manchin, who criticized the new program before the first episode was aired, said, "Don't call it a reality show. Call it entertainment, as sick as it is. It is not my form of entertainment."
In a press release, Rockefeller said his other major legislative goals include:
Creating and saving jobs in West Virginia, including introducing legislation to provide a tax credit to encourage manufacturing development. He also will support job training programs for emerging industries, such as natural gas drilling.
Protecting workers' safety and benefits, including the reintroduction of his comprehensive mine safety bill.
Using energy resources safely, focusing on safety in the natural gas industry and transmission pipelines, as well as clean coal technology.
Making sure all schools and libraries have access to the internet and up-to-date computer technology.
Protecting veterans' benefits, including health care and education.
Rockefeller said one of his major focuses will be to "take power away from [medical] insurance companies to put consumers first."
He also plans to defend Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security from any drastic budget cuts.
Reach Paul J. Nyden at email@example.com or 304-348-5164.