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W.Va. delegation split on debt ceiling

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's congressional delegation agrees that the United States must not default on its debt, but, its members are split and vague on what kind of bill should be passed to raise the nation's borrowing limit.

Sen. Joe Manchin said Wednesday the United States would not default on its debt, but he would not say if he would support a clean raise of the nation's debt ceiling.

"We're looking at everything that they're going to bring to the table," Manchin, D-W.Va., said about debt ceiling legislation. "I sure don't want the country to default but, sooner or later, we're going to have to be serious."

Manchin told reporters Tuesday that he wants a bigger deal in connection with raising the debt ceiling and said, "You've got to negotiate."

That position represents a break from President Obama and other Democratic leaders, who have said they will not negotiate with Republicans -- about the Affordable Care Act or a potential default.

The U.S. Treasury Department has said it will reach the debt ceiling -- the amount of money it is allowed to borrow to pay debts that Congress has already authorized -- on Oct. 17. Economists from all over the political spectrum have said that not raising the debt ceiling, triggering an unprecedented default, would wreak havoc on the world economy.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., introduced legislation Tuesday that would raise the debt limit, no strings attached, until Dec. 31, 2014.

Rep. David McKinley said he would support a similar bill that raised the debt limit for a year and passed a "clean" continuing resolution to fund the government, but only with terms that are likely to be unacceptable to Senate Democrats.

McKinley, R-W.Va., said he would support such legislation only if it included the proviso that, within 90 days, the Senate must pass five or six bills, out of a group of 12, that the House has already passed. Those bills, which would include a repeal of the medical device tax, coal ash legislation, means testing for Medicare and a repeal of the Affordable Care Act's Independent Patient Advisory Board, are almost certainly nonstarters in the Senate.

Manchin did not address Reid's bill. He said that he did not want to address a hypothetical bill that would raise the debt ceiling and that he would consider each bill that came forward.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, through a spokesman, also said she would not comment on hypothetical debt limit legislation.

"First and foremost, I do not want to default on our nation's debt. But that being said, this is one of the few opportunities that we have to discuss long-term solutions to our fiscal problems," Capito, R-W.Va, said in an email statement. "My hope is that the two sides sit down to negotiate a deal that includes both a short-term answer to the debt limit and a longer-term solution to our nation's fiscal problems."

Obama reiterated Tuesday that he will not negotiate with Republicans until they agree to fund the government -- including his new health-insurance law -- and raise the debt ceiling.

Since both the House and the Senate passed budgets in the spring, Democratic senators have filed 19 motions to establish a conference committee, the traditional means of resolving budget disputes between the two chambers. Republican senators have blocked all those motions to begin negotiations.

McKinley said private negotiations have been ongoing for months but that Republicans have blocked going to a conference committee because doing so would trigger a procedural deadline that would be impossible to meet.

Rep. Nick Rahall indicated that he would favor a clean bill to raise the nation's borrowing authority.

"Congress has a constitutional duty to honor its debts and ensure a proper functioning government. There are grave consequences if we do otherwise," Rahall, D-W.Va., said in an email statement. "My emphasis has been on taking action to address the debt ceiling quickly and cleanly, and without unrelated provisions that have stoked the current political standoff and government shutdown."

Manchin, in a conference call with West Virginia reporters, conflated debt limit questions with issues related to the ongoing partial government shutdown.

"If you're talking about finances, then finances is what we should be talking about. What the Republicans have done is throw every social issue in there," Manchin said, referring to Republican demands to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act in return for funding the rest of the government. "You think I wouldn't want to talk about our energy policy?  . . . but I don't think this is the place to do it.

"You just don't hold the whole darn thing hostage."

Manchin said the funding levels the Senate approved, which keep in place the budget cuts known as sequestration, already represent a win for Republicans.

"That should have been a major victory," Manchin said. "That's when [Sen.] Ted Cruz [R-Texas] jumped in with Obamacare and held everybody hostage."

McKinley said the shutdown and the debt limit debate are not about Obamacare.

"This issue is not about health care, it's all about the economy," McKinley said in a phone interview Wednesday. "I don't want this to be an attack on health care."

Manchin, who voted with every other Senate Democrat to continue funding the government at current levels, also said the government should reopen before negotiations begin, but he appeared more willing to discuss fiscal issues in the eight days before the debt ceiling deadline.

"There's not going to be a default. I believe the adults will start talking," Manchin said.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller did not respond to requests for comment. Rockefeller's office is not answering phones or responding to emails while the government is shut down.

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


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