Centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on Thursday called for a broad bipartisan deal to protect the solvency of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, popular programs that face serious funding issues over the next few decades.
“You’re going to get your financial house in order. We cannot live with this crippling debt,” Manchin, whose pivotal vote both delayed and helped pass big pieces of President Biden’s agenda, told Fortune’s Alan Murray at a CEO conference.
“If we don’t look at the trust funds that are going bankrupt, whether they be Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, highway, all the ones — there are tremendous problems right now,” Manchin said when asked where he sees areas of potential compromise in Washington after the Nov. 8 midterm elections.
“If we can’t come to grips of how we face the financial challenge that this country has, then we’re all going to be paying a price that we can’t afford,” he said.
Manchin, who sank Biden’s ambitious $3 trillion Build Back Better agenda in December, has often talked about the financial challenges facing Social Security and Medicaid.
The Social Security Administration announced last year that it is not projected to have the funds to pay full benefits past 2033.
In February, Manchin proposed addressing that shortfall by increasing the amount of income subject to taxation to fund Social Security from $147,000 to $400,000.
And Manchin pushed back hard against Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) effort to expand Medicare to include vision, dental and hearing benefits by arguing that the core program itself was in danger because of the soaring federal debt.
“My big concern right now is the 2026 deadline [for] Medicare insolvency and if no one’s concerned about that, I’ve got people — that’s a lifeline. Medicare and Social Security is a lifeline for people back in West Virginia, most people around the country,” Manchin told reporters in October of last year.
If Manchin continues to push for a bipartisan deal to shore up the finances of Social Security and Medicare, he could have a negotiating partner in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has proposed broad entitlement reform on several previous occasions.
After Republicans captured the Senate majority in the 2014 midterm election, McConnell decried what he called the “unsustainable growth rate” of Social Security and Medicare and warned “we need to adjust these popular programs or they won’t be there in the next generation.”
In October of 2018, when Republicans controlled the White House, the Senate and the House, McConnell said that entitlement spending, not the Republican push to cut taxes, was the main driver of the federal deficit.
“It’s a bipartisan problem: unwillingness to address the real drivers of the debt by doing anything to adjust those programs to the demographics of America in the future,” he told Bloomberg News at the time.
Manchin, who appeared Thursday before a room full of CEOs via video link, urged the audience to stop making political donations to members of Congress without getting solid commitments to improve the nation’s governance in return.
“Quit writing checks to everybody,” he said.
He argued that successful CEOs build good companies because they expect return on their investment, yet too often, they write checks to lawmakers in Washington without expecting anything of real substance in return.
“The investments you’ve made in politics from the Democrat side and the Republican side by asking nothing in return is a foolish investment,” he said.
“Why don’t you do this? Tell a politician when they come to you, say, ‘Listen, I’m sorry I don’t give checks, I don’t give a donation or contribution to any politician, but I’m willing to make an investment. What should I expect from you? What are you going to do?’” Manchin advised.
He said too many donors are “giving checks to bad behavior” by supporting candidates and officeholders who are happy to let partisan gridlock rule the nation’s capital.