WASHINGTON, D.C. — First District Congressman David McKinley said Friday on MetroNews “Talkline” there is a commitment from congressional leaders to include language in the new federal government funding package that would provide a permanent fix for the health care of thousands of retired coal miners and widows of miners.
The final funding package now likely won’t be voted on until next week but McKinley said it will include the language necessary to put more than 22,000 retired miners and family members at ease.
West Virginia’s entire congressional delegation has been working on a fix. U.S. Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito in the Senate and McKinley, Second District Congressman Alex Mooney and Third District Congressman Evan Jenkins in the House.
“We have achieved something that we’ve never been able to get before. It’s going to happen,” McKinley said.
He said there’s been a commitment from both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“If you’ve got the top man in the Senate and the top person in the House agreeing that’s (the permanent fix language) not where the disagreement is going to come from,” McKinley said.
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin said Friday he supported Friday’s extension vote because of guarantees on the miners’ health care.
“I am supporting the short-term funding bill that will keep the government open until next week only because I received assurances that a permanent healthcare fix for our retired miners will be in the final spending package and the inclusion of explicit language covering our miners in the short-term funding bill,” Manchin said. “I am very confident that next week we will finally pass a permanent healthcare fix for our retired miners who have been coming to Capitol Hill, talking with their representatives, making phone calls and writing letters for years to get this done. It’s because of their hard work that we are so close to securing a permanent healthcare fix and I thank them for dedicating their time and energy. These patriotic miners have waited far too long already, so I urge all of my colleagues to get this done; then, we will redouble our efforts to find a permanent fix for their pensions.”
The funding source for that permanent fix remains a question. The Miners Protection Act would take the money from the Abandoned Mine Land Fund but McKinley said there are other sources under consideration.
“It could come from custom fees, Ways and Means (U.S. House Ways and Means Committee) is working on a way now to help finance it. There are three or four buckets from which we can draw the monies,” according to McKinley. “We’ve been given a commitment. One way or the other it’s going to be paid for. It may be the AML but I think it’s going to be a combination of several sources to take care of this and give these people peace of mind.”
The health care coverage was scheduled to run out this weekend but Congress voted Friday to continue the current funding package for the entire federal government for a week, avoiding a government shutdown.
Lifetime health care and pension funding for the miners was first promised in 1946 by President Harry Truman but in recent years the mechanism used to pay for it has been drained because of coal company bankruptcies sending supporters looking for another source.
The pension fix still must be dealt with but supporters have said in recent days that will be an issue for another day.