Sen. Manchin discusses health care, opioid crisis ahead of Nov. election

MORGANTOWN — Sen. Joe Manchin, D, W.Va., said he has a track record of being the most centrist, bi-partisan member of Congress despite operating in “a troubled world and a divided nation.”

A self-described “West Virginia Democrat,” Manchin said the people of the Mountain State have gotten to know him since his early days as a part-time legislator.

He would go on to serve as secretary of state and, ultimately, governor, before heading to Washington.

Manchin has served in the Senate since 2010, when he won a special election to fill the seat vacated when Robert Byrd died in office. Seeking his second full term in that seat, Manchin faces a challenge from Republican Patrick Morrisey.

Manchin recently sat down with The Dominion Post Editorial Board to discuss a range of topics, including health care, prescription drugs and his recent vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Manchin wasted little time in pointing to the differences he sees between himself and his opponent, focusing initially on Morrisey’s decision as West Virginia secretary of state to join a federal lawsuit pertaining to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that many believe would allow insurers to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions.

“This issue with the pre-existing conditions is the glaring thing that tells me you don’t know West Virginia if you think you can throw that out and allow insurance companies to be in control of your health,” Manchin said, citing the Kaiser Family Foundation’s data indicating there are 800,000 West Virginians living with pre-existing conditions.

While Manchin said he would have struggled to vote for the ACA as presented in 2009, he believes the law has merit and has served many people well in nine years of “maturing and growing.”

He explained he believes every state should initiate a reinsurance program or high-risk pool — essentially insurance for insurance companies — through which coverage must be provided no matter the pre-existing conditions, but done so without driving up costs for everyone else.

“You want someone that’s going to fight and not allow the government to step in and take away insurance over pre-existing conditions for 800,000 West Virginians? That’s me,” Manchin said. “You want someone who will fight opiate addiction? I’ve done everything I can in this arena.”

Manchin said failures within both the Food and Drug Administration and Drug Enforcement Agency helped flood the country with addictive prescriptions, fueling the opiate epidemic.

“Both of them have done a horrible job. We’re just inundated and they haven’t cracked back on any of this stuff,” he said. “We should have CDC-mandated prescription guidelines. They should not prescribe you 30 days of an opiate for a tooth extraction. … I’m going to fight that more than anybody else. My opponent comes from that industry. He worked in that industry. His family is still in that industry. … I’d shut it down completely if I could.”

Asked about his decision to vote in favor of confirming Kavanaugh, Manchin said “the facts just weren’t there,” referencing claims of decades-old misconduct against the nominee.

He went on to say the process laid bare just how tribal and divisive things have gotten in Washington.

“It’s never been that way. You think about Ruth Bader Ginsberg and you think about Antonin Scalia, the most liberal and the most conservative justices. They both got 97 or 98 votes,” Manchin said. “They were qualified. We’ve quit looking at qualifications as the driving force for why a person should be on the bench.”

In the end, Manchin said he’s in support of good ideas regardless of which side of the aisle they come from.

“I think I’m the most centrist in the whole Congress. If it makes sense, I’ll vote for it. I don’t care whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican idea. If I can come home and explain it, I’m going to vote for it. If I can’t, I won’t. I just won’t do it,” he said.

He said the cost of dysfunction in Washington has impacts far beyond our own borders.

“At the end of the day, we’re the hope of the world. There’s not another country that’s going to take our place,” Manchin said, adding “That’s why we have to be careful. I’ve always said that unless you’re strong at home, you can’t be strong enough to help other people. Sometimes we get out of balance.”

Tweet @DominionPostWV. Email bconley@dominionpost.com

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