FOLLANSBEE - U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., discussed the recent government shutdown, Obamacare, hydraulic fracturing and other issues at a town hall meeting Friday in Follansbee.
Manchin told the many residents and public officials who gathered at Vito's 2 Restaurant, "The problem in Washington is extremes are speaking louder than anybody else. You don't hear about the middle that much."
But he added, "We're starting to gather more people in the middle, including legislators who say the (government) shutdown never should have happened," regardless of their divergent opinions of the Affordable Care Act.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., discussed the recent government shutdown, Obamacare and other issues at a town hall meeting Friday at Vito's 2 in Follansbee. -- Warren Scott
Manchin said he also has mixed feelings about the law, also known as Obamacare, but believes it can be fixed if given time.
"I never liked the mandate (that all Americans obtain health insurance or pay a fine), but I understand what they are trying to do," he said.
Manchin noted he and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., have introduced a bill calling for the mandate to be delayed a year, a move he said would allow Americans without insurance more time to pursue their options.
"How can they fine people if the product is not available?" he asked, noting computer glitches have kept many from exploring insurance options through the government website set up for them.
Manchin said the act's goal is to make health insurance available to millions of Americans who can't afford it and eliminate discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions and caps on coverage for those already insured.
He acknowledged many young adults have said they can better afford to pay the fine than pay for insurance. But he said people at 100 to 133 percent of the federal poverty level - $11,490 for an individual and $23,550 for a family of four - will receive a tax credit for their coverage.
Asked how coverage will be provided for the currently uninsured, Manchin said it will be partly through new taxes on health care services that he conceded will be passed on to consumers.
Manchin was asked his opinion of natural gas drilling, whether the state is capitalizing on the recent boom and how communities can seek a remedy for roads damaged by the heavy truck traffic involved.
Concerns have been aired by some environmental experts about drillers using hydraulic fracturing, a process in which water and chemicals are injected into the underground Marcellus shale to release large amounts of natural gas within the rock.
Industry officials have said the procedure is safe when wells are properly sealed.
The senator said natural gas drilling "if done right and no shortcuts are taken, and provided we run out the bums who are doing it wrong, is fine."
When a resident suggested natural gas drilling could generate additional revenue for public schools, Manchin noted state Sen. Jeff Kessler, D-Glen Dale, and other legislators have visited North Dakota to learn how that state has established a legacy fund for education and other purposes using taxes from the oil and gas industry.
Established in 2013, the fund has grown to $1.3 billion.
Manchin said the state should be cautious when taxing the natural gas industry, as drillers can take their business to other states in the Marcellus shale region.
"We've got to be competitive but we also have to be fair to our citizens and make sure that money is re-invested," he said.
Manchin also commented on his position on background checks for firearm purchases, something that has been criticized by the National Rifle Association.
He said federally licensed firearms dealers already are required to do background checks, but those who sell weapons through the Internet and at gun shows are not.
Such dealers often know little or nothing about their customers, who may go on to commit violent crimes, Manchin noted. But he said an increase in violent crimes involves many issues, including children becoming desensitized to violence through video games and schools' efforts to prevent themselves from being targeted for mass shootings.
In closing, Manchin encouraged those attending not to be discouraged by controversial topics and political in-fighting and to get involved with issues affecting them.
"Don't give up on this country. We don't have a deportation problem, we have an immigration problem. That should tell you something. There are more people trying to get in than out."
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)