Although Senator Joe Manchin is busy in Washington, D.C., he is never too busy to answer the questions of curious West Virginia students.
On October 30, Manchin “visited” Pocahontas County High School through a Skype session. While he was in his office in D.C., Manchin discussed issues with seniors in Sherman Taylor’s Civics class.
Each semester, Regional Coordinator Peggy Hawse selects two schools in her region to have a Skype session with the senator.
“I decided this was a great place to come,” Hawse told the students as they waited to hear from Manchin.
Students submitted questions for approval and the top five were asked by volunteers Judd Walther, Allie Erlewine, Clay Friel, Amanda Gibson and Andrew Morrison.
“Your questions were outstanding, by the way,” Hawse said. “I did a Skype with Cortland Acres in Tucker County not too long ago. It was great, but there was this older lady and she asked the Senator a question and it was so cute, she said. ‘Well, you do a pretty good job.’ He just about cracked up. You never know what kind of comments you’re going to hear.”
The students waited patiently for Manchin to return from the Senate floor where he was participating in a judiciary appointment.
Hawse explained that although Manchin has a schedule for each day, things don’t always go as planned.
Walther asked Manchin, “How does fracking for natural gas affect the coal industry in West Virginia, and do you think fracking is safe for citizens and the environment?”
“The only way directly it can affect the coal industry, is basically when they’re drilling, they’re drilling through a solid bed of coal and they’re trying to mine that same coal that they’re drilling through. That’s an interruption. That’s a direct involvement,” Manchin replied.
Manchin added that although natural gas is an affordable fuel, it may never replace the need and use of coal.
“If you’re a utility company, you’re responsible to make sure that the people you serve have dependable, reliable and affordable electricity and energy,” he continued. “You’ve got to make sure you’ve got a little bit of everything, so you’re still going to want coal fired. You’re still going to want this new, cheap gas fired, but if gas goes up and doubles in price, which it has done before, you still have the coal power to rely on.”
The senator said coal is the most reliable resource available because it can be stockpiled and stored.
“Gas, you’re dependent on moving gas through a pipeline,” he said. “If something happens there, you can’t stockpile the gas. They can stockpile coal for six months or a year. That’s the reliable factor. It’s kind of the best of both worlds for us in West Virginia since we have both. Right now the prices of gas are lower so gas is more attractive. We got to make sure we still have our coal firing reliability so it can run twenty-four/seven.”
As to whether fracking is safe or not, Manchin explained that if fracking companies follow the rules and regulations correctly, fracking should be safe.
“If they administer those rules and regulations, yes [it is safe] because they are doing solid wall piping, double wall piping with concrete all the way into the bed of the gas, when they frack,” he said. “People have talked about it could impregnate the well water. If you do it and do it properly, you can’t and you won’t.”
On the other hand, Manchin said that there is concern over the use of water to frack.
“How do you treat that water? What do you do with that water once you frack and that water comes back out? How are you treating that water and where do you dispose of it?” he asked. “Technology is going to be rapidly advancing to where I think in the next five years, you won’t even be using the water for fracking. It will be chemical fracking.”
Fracking for natural gas will help West Virginia become a net exporter, providing gas for other countries.
“Anytime a nation can be an exporter of energy – that means you’re providing all the energy you need plus you have additional you can sell – that’s a pretty good position to be in,” Manchin said.
Erlewine asked Manchin: “In your opinion, what do you feel is causing the violence and shootings of the young people in America, and what can the government do to solve this?”
In response, Manchin asked the students how many of them play violent video games and asked if the violence in the games shocked them.
Most of the students raised their hands, implying they play the games, but most of the students said they were not shocked by the violence.
“I’ve seen the same games you’ve seen, so I don’t know how it transgressed to this to where it is almost acceptable in our society because the shock factor is not there anymore,” Manchin said.
He explained that the government is not in charge of the amount of violence in video games, but it can assist individuals who see the violence in video games as an instruction manual.
“Subconsciously, if you have a mental disorder, could that not drive you and cause you to play that out as far as in reality even though it’s just a video game?” he asked. “We’re looking at everything right now, at how we identify someone with mental disorders.”
Mancin added that violence is more available in our society today through several avenues, including entertainment and news.
“Mass violence is just rampant in our country,” he said. “There are people you would think would never do that and there’s so much of it, you don’t get shocked anymore. You read about a family getting slaughtered or killed every day you pick up the paper. It’s like it’s the norm. I don’t remember when I grew up, seeing that much violence in families and things of that sort, and now it seems to be the norm. It’s a shame.”
The government is limited on what it can do with the content of video games due to the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, which states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Friel asked Manchin: “How do you see government helping reduce unemployment rates for the younger generation?”
“The unemployment rates are going to be reduced because of your educational skills and talents,” Manchin replied. “If you think the government’s going to do it for you – create jobs and put you to work – you’ve got another thing coming. In this society, you’ve got to have the wherewithal.”
The senator said if college is not the avenue a student wants to take, there are many other options where that student can learn a trade and enter the workforce.
“Right now there is so much opportunity and so many of those other arenas as far as the skills and things,” he said. “Healthcare – my goodness – the opportunities in healthcare. The opportunities in programming and technology. The heavy industry, factory jobs, construction and manufacturing, things of that sort that are going to be run in cycles. The skills you have are going to be depending on how well you own those skills.”
Dropping the unemployment rates is going to rely on the government getting its financial house in order and ensuring employees are fit to work, Manchin said.
“We’ve got to create a vibrant economy and get our financial house in order,” he said. “If this economy takes off the way it should, we’re going to lack a lot of skilled people who can do the jobs that need to be done. Right now you can talk to different people in high skill jobs and they’re saying they have a hard time not just finding a person with a skill set, but finding somebody that’s clean enough, not on drugs. Jobs are so scarce – the real good jobs are even scarcer – so if you’re looking to have a good life and make a good living, and you think you’ve worked hard and have all the job skills, you better go a little bit further and make sure you’re clean enough to get that job, too, because they’ll have random drug tests from now on.”
Gibson asked Manchin: “What are some pros and cons that you see with the Affordable Healthcare Act?”
“Insurance companies cannot put a limit to how sick you are,” he replied. “If you have insurance, you’re able to be taken care of until, hopefully, until they can cure you. If you had a pre-existing condition, if you have a child and that child was born with a heart condition. Before, the insurance would say, ‘I’m sorry, we’re not going to insure your child because he or she would be too costly.’ They can’t do that anymore. That’s a pro.”
Manchin said there is a lot with the Act that has Democrats and Republicans seeing eye to eye, but there is still a struggle with getting the Act up and running.
“It is a very big task,” he said. “They’re telling people you can’t keep what you have and all along you were led to believe if you have insurance, you can keep it. They can’t change that. You can’t force people to buy a product that’s more costly and not as good as what you had before. That’s not affordable healthcare. That’s the bad part about it.”
Manchin said he asked for a year for the transition into the Act, allowing Congress to work out any problems that may develop.
“Something as mammoth as this is going to take more than just a month to develop,” he said. “We’ve got to get to a market-based product and I think we will. You’ll be able to afford it and it will give you a reason to buy it.”
Morrison asked Manchin: “What steps can and should the federal government take to reduce the national debt?”
First, Manchin explained what the federal government should no longer do in order to reduce debt.
“You can’t be everything to everybody,” he said. “You can’t write checks to everybody in the world. You can’t be their police in the world. You can’t enter into wars around the world. It’s not going to change anything.”
A reduction in debt begins with control of spending and a fair and honest tax package, Manchin explained.
“Once you have a fair, balanced revenue package, you control your spending and then you have to look at reforms – Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. Should a person that is getting something free get a better project than a person working, trying to buy something? That’s a complete cultural change. Your generation is going to have to come to grips with that. We’re going to have to make some changes.”
One thing that may change is the age for Social Security. Currently, a person receives Social Security at the age of 67 without penalties. Manchin asked the students if they would be agreeable to change the age to 69.
“You’re going to live a lot longer than I am because of all the new technology,” he said. “Would you all be objectionable to raising it to sixty-nine? Do you all think about it? It’s probably the last thing you’re thinking about. That day will come.”
In closing, Manchin gave the students advice for the future.
“If you’re inclined to want to help people and keep yourself strong – not just mentally and physically – keep yourself financially strong so you can truly be healthy,” he said. “If that’s what you are inclined to do, all you need to remember is to keep yourself strong – physically, mentally and financially. This country has to practice what we preach. The rest of the world looks at us as a super power. If we’re not strong enough to help ourselves, how in the world are we going to help others? So we’ve got to get our financial house back in order and that means it’s going to be painful for the next five to ten years, but it’s got to be done. That’s the best thing we can do for your generation.”
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org