CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s two U.S. senators have a message for Congress: fund the pensions and health care for thousands of coal miners before the year ends.
On the last voting day before December, Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V.a., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., spoke Thursday on the Senate floor about passing the Bipartisan American Miners Act, which will shore up health care and pension costs if passed.
“These gentlemen worked for these pensions. They paid into the pensions (and) they should receive them,” Capito said. “Pension benefits for mine workers planned went to individuals in all 55 of West Virginia counties, so this is truly an issue that impacts my entire state.”
Manchin, Capito and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., introduced the bill earlier this month; the measure would transfer excess money from the Abandoned Mine Land fund to the 1974 pension plan. It would also fund health care for coal miners whose employers went bankrupt in 2018 and 2019.
Manchin and Capito have said the bill will affect 105,000 miners nationwide, including 92,000 people receiving pensions.
Multiple lawmakers are co-sponsoring the measure, including Republican. Sen. Rob Portman and Democrat Sherrod Brown, both of Ohio, Pennsylvania Democrat Bob Casey and Virginia Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.
Manchin introduced an amendment on Thursday to have the bill attached to a continuing resolution funding the government through Dec. 20.
“Time is running out for our coal miners, and we need a fix now,” Manchin said. “Not in a few weeks and not in 2020, but now.”
The amendment was not included in House Resolution 3055, which provides funds for multiple agencies; the Senate passed the resolution 74-20. The House of Representatives passed the resolution on Tuesday, which also did not include an amendment similar to Manchin’s proposal. President Donald Trump signed the measure following the Senate’s vote.
After the vote, Manchin expressed disappointment the Bipartisan American Miners Act was not included in the bill.
“I will do everything I can to get this fix into the spending bill we’ll need to pass in December,” he said. “I won’t allow hardworking miners and their families to lose the health care and pensions they have earned, they have paid for, and they deserve.”
In a video released Thursday afternoon, Capito said she stressed the importance of passing the measure during a lunch meeting with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and several Republican senators. West Virginia’s junior senator added she and the president had an “extended conversation” regarding the issue.
“He’s concerned about it as well, and I was pleased to bring that to his attention today,” she said.