CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin got resounding yeas and nays Friday in a straw poll taken among about 60 Eastern Panhandle mayors and county public officials on the subjects of Afghanistan, health care, energy and the economy.
Manchin, D-W.Va., met with the mayors of eight of the nine Eastern Panhandle municipalities at a forum in the basement meeting room of the Charles Town Library. Elected officials and staffers from the three counties made up the rest of the audience.
The forum was one of three stops Manchin made in the Eastern Panhandle. He also visited the Jefferson County Council on Aging Senior Center in Ranson, W.Va., and Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va.
Manchin said he wanted a "show of hands" on whether those present thought the country should get out of Afghanistan; if it should drop President Obama's health care program; if it needs an energy policy; and if its biggest problem is the economy.
They answered yes on Afghanistan, the economy and energy policy, and agreed that while they want the president's health care program to stay in place, it needs to be corrected.
Earlier this week, Manchin — in a speech on the floor of the Senate — called on Obama to begin a "substantial and responsible reduction" in the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. When the United States went into Afghanistan 10 years ago, "it was a just and rightful mission to seek out and destroy those responsible for the terrorist attacks on 9/11," he said in his floor speech. Today, the mission has been more about building a country that never existed at the expense of rebuilding America, he said.
Bringing the Iraq War into the discussion Friday, Manchin said, "We're spending $60 million a year on countries that don't like us."
Speaking on the economy, Manchin said he was facing some tough votes on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
"As a Democrat, I'm not afraid to look at these things," he said. "All the money is in these social services, but we need to go after waste, fraud and abuse to ensure they are run efficiently."
He singled out the $80 billion a year in Medicaid fraud and the fact that many who receive Social Security disability payments don't need them, never get rehabilitated and never get off the program.
"Democrats have to look at that," he said.
Manchin said 55 percent of West Virginia's population relies on Social Security and Medicare, and he pledged to fight to protect them.
As for Republicans, they have drawn a line in the sand on raising taxes, Manchin said. Not many Democrats are talking about raising taxes either, he said.
"I look at everything," he said.
Manchin said Americans no longer have confidence in their elected officials in Washington.
"They're just posturing for the next election, blaming each other and drawing farther apart," he said.
Manchin sat relaxed in the center of the Jefferson County Commissioners' U-shaped meeting table with the mayors seated in front of him.
Local chief executives present were David Hamill, Ranson; George Karos, Martinsburg; Robert Hardy, Bolivar; Joseph Anderson, Harpers Ferry; Susan Webster, Berkeley Springs/Bath; Mary Sue Catlett, Hedgesville; Peggy Smith, Charles Town; and Jim Auxer, Shepherdstown. Alton Wolfe, mayor of Paw Paw, did not attend.