Joe Manchin could show the Senate a better way forward
© Greg Nash

Since the COVID-19 pandemic first arrived on our shores nearly a year ago, it has brought our economy to a halt, kept our children out of school, and claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans.

Now, a massive vaccination program is underway, making a return to normal seem within reach.

We aren’t out of the woods yet, though. Our lawmakers must maintain their focus on fighting the coronavirus and fostering the conditions that will make it possible for America to emerge stronger than before.

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With a new president inaugurated after a bitter election contest and a Congress closely divided along party lines, compromise might seem unlikely. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and West Virginia Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinHouse Democrats eye passing DC statehood bill for second time Biden dispatches Cabinet members to sell infrastructure plan On The Money: Treasury creates hub to fight climate change | Manchin throws support behind union-backed PRO Act | Consumer bureau rolls out rule to bolster CDC eviction ban MORE is well-positioned to play a central role in bridging divides.

“For the sake of the country we all love, we must commit to solving the serious problems facing our nation,” he wrote, adding, “Above all, we must avoid the extreme and polarizing rhetoric that only further divides the American people - I will work tirelessly to make sure we do.”

Manchin’s tweet thread illuminates a path that the American people are hungry for and that could guide our elected officials toward fruitful ends in those critical first 100 days of the new administration.

The first thing the new Congress must do is address the shortcomings of our health care system that have been laid bare by the coronavirus pandemic, from excessive mandates to burdensome regulations.

It’s an area where West Virginia has already led.

In the early days of the pandemic, Gov. Jim Justice worked quickly to issue a series of emergency executive orders in the Mountain State that allowed our health care system to adapt quickly to the influx of COVID-19 patients. These orders granted our qualified nurses greater practice authority to offer treatment and removed onerous restrictions on our doctors.

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A similar effort could be replicated by Congress. It must be if we are to mitigate the rising death toll over the course of this costly winter.

Congress must also consider the country’s fiscal health. If nothing else, this pandemic has revealed the importance of responsible federal spending.

The U.S. Treasury ran a nearly $1 trillion deficit at the end of 2019 — before the pandemic. Throughout 2020, we spent over $4 trillion on COVID-19 measures alone. Fiscally, we were ill-prepared for this crisis.

Lawmakers must consider measures to prepare us for the next one. We can start now with a commitment to reject harmful bailouts and massive spending initiatives that would do nothing to address COVID-19 but would work wonders at undermining our economic recovery and hindering our ability to respond to future crises.

Now that the vaccines have shown us a light at the end of this tunnel, Congress must act quickly to ensure that Americans can get back to work — quickly and safely — in order to complete our recovery effort.

There are several places to start. Lawmakers could strengthen COVID-19 liability protections for businesses, many of which are struggling to stay open and could not withstand an additional hit from frivolous and ruinous litigation.

Our elected officials should also be wary of efforts, such as the PRO Act, to push workers out of independent contracting, gig work, and freelancing. Making it more difficult for Americans to pursue these flexible work arrangements would prove disastrous, especially during our recovery.

Additionally, the federal government should avoid top-down energy mandates and California-style taxes that will exacerbate energy poverty and keep West Virginians from getting back to work. In his role on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Manchin is in a great position to hold the Biden administration and its key appointees accountable.

We still have much work to do to improve our health care system, put our fiscal house in order, and get our economy going again. Manchin’s rhetoric is in the right place, and he sits at the center of a divided Senate, available and apparently willing to help shepherd bipartisan initiatives through Congress.

These next few months may well prove that we’re capable of working together in 2021 for a stronger country after the pandemic. Can we count on Sen. Manchin to lead the way?

Jason Huffman is state director of Americans for Prosperity-West Virginia.