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Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), accompanied by other senators, at a news conference on Feb. 8, 2011. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Democratic Senator Shows Triangulation Isn't Just For Presidents

Mar 8, 2011

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Frank James

West Virginia isn't exactly Obama country. The president has consistently polled below 40 percent approval in the state.

So Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) appears more in step than not with his constituents by criticizing the president, which he did Tuesday on the Senate floor.

In a speech his office made sure journalists knew about beforehand Manchin, who won a special election last year to finish the unexpired term of the late and legendary Democrat Sen. Robert Byrd, took the president to task for not leading the way on spending cuts.

He said:

"Why are we doing all this when the most powerful person in these negotiations - our President - has failed to lead this debate or offer a serious proposal for spending and cuts that he would be willing to fight for?

"How does that make sense?

"The truth of the matter is that this debate, as important as it is, will not be decided by House Republicans and Senate Democrats negotiating with each other - or past each other. This debate will be decided when the President leads these tough negotiations.

It echoed criticism congressional Republicans have attacked the president with.

But Manchin had a little pepper for Republicans too. He hit them for proposing unnecessarily deep spending cuts.

It came in a part of his speech where he criticized both the Democratic and Republican proposals for spending cuts for the rest of fiscal year 2011 which ends in September. The Senate is considering competing and partisan spending-cut proposals this week.

"The first is a Democratic proposal that doesn't go far enough. This proposal, which calls for $6.5 billion in new cuts, utterly ignores our fiscal reality - our nation is badly in debt and spending at absolutely unsustainable and out-of-control levels. In February alone, the federal government outspent revenues by an unacceptable $223 billion. We must turn our financial ship around, but the Senate proposal continues to sail forward as if there's no storm on the horizon.

"Or, we could choose a second, even more flawed measure: a House GOP proposal that blindly hacks the budget with no sense of our priorities or of our values as a country. Now, I didn't grow up in an America that would carelessly cut Head Start and make the playing field even harder for kids born into poverty. Our America shouldn't cut funding for veterans, or for border security, or for first responders, or especially for our children - without at least discussing the alternatives.

By trying to place himself in the sensible middle, Manchin proved that triangulation isn't just for presidents. Senators can do it, too.

For Manchin, the need to push off against Obama and congressional Democrats on one hand and Republicans on the other is driven by West Virginia realities.

West Virginia has voted Republican in presidential elections since 2000 in part because of concerns about Democratic presidential candidates' energy and climate policies that could hurt the state's coal industry.

The state is also conservative socially, which has favored Republican candidates.

But West Virginia is also a state that has benefited from federal spending. In recent history it has been near the top of the list of states in what it's received in per capita federal spending and near the bottom of the list in what it sends to Washington per capita in taxes.

Being that he's up for re-election next year for a full, six-year term Manchin, who was a popular governor, clearly doesn't want to be associated with either side in the current spending dispute. Thus the "pox on both your houses" speech.

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