washington, d.c. — Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said Wednesday that legislation in the Senate will be stalled until a bipartisan bill to save coal miners’ benefits he and others have supported passes.
Speaking on the floor of the Senate, he said that “no legislation will pass the Senate until he receives assurances that coal miners’ healthcare and pensions will be secured in the end of year spending package.”
Manchin said the Bipartisan American Miners Act would permanently secure healthcare and pensions and honor the guarantee made by the federal government back in 1946.
“We have 13,000 coal miners who will lose their healthcare and 92,000 coal miners who will lose their pensions next year if we do not do something now,” he said. “That’s why I’m putting a hold on all legislative business coming through the Senate until I get assurances that coal miners’ healthcare and pensions will be secured by the end of this year.”
Manchin said his bill is the “only bill that fixes this problem and has bipartisan support in the House and the Senate.”
“I know that if Congress passed my bill, the Bipartisan American Miners Act, President Trump would sign it,” he said. “We have to have a fix for these coal miners, and I will do whatever I can to keep the promise to those who have sacrificed so much for us.”
Another sponsor of the bill, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), agreed with the importance of the bill, saying Congress has to act to save health care and pension benefits.
“More than 25,000 retired miners received benefits in West Virginia last year, and we have a bipartisan bill to address this critical issue for our mining families and for West Virginia communities,” she said. “It is critical that we pass that bill before the year because this situation is getting more dire every single day.”
Last month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also voiced his support for passage and joined in the introduction of the bill.
“Unfortunately, eight years of regulatory assault on coal country can’t be undone overnight,” he said. “I personally raised with President Trump the importance of protecting these coal miners’ pensions and health retirement benefits, and I am committed to continuing to work with him and my colleagues in Congress towards a solution.”
McConnell said the “startling number of orphaned miners in the drastically underfunded pension plan” is an “urgent crisis” that impacts entire communities of miners, retirees and their families.
“To help our miners and their families, including those in Kentucky, Senators Manchin, Capito and I proudly introduced our bill ... to help solve this looming pension crisis,” he said.
The Bipartisan American Miners Act of 2019 will amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 to transfer funds in excess of the amounts needed to meet existing obligations under the Abandoned Mine Land fund to the 1974 Pension Plan to prevent its insolvency, Manchin said.
It will also amend the Coal Act to include 2018 and 2019 bankruptcies in the miners’ healthcare fix that passed in 2017. These actions will secure the pensions of 92,000 coal miners and protect healthcare benefits for 13,000 miners.
The Bipartisan American Miners Act of 2019 is also co-sponsored by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Doug Jones (D-AL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).