WASHINGTON, D.C. — Both U.S. Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito expressed disappointment during remarks on the floor of the Senate Wednesday that a vote on the Miners Protection Act won’t come until next week at the earliest before the Senate Finance Committee.
Manchin and Capito were joined by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Mark Warner (D-Virginia) in the floor remarks calling on Congress to renew its promise to coal miners and their widows with health care and pension benefits.
“We as a government, we as lawmakers here, have understood the value of the coal that’s been produced by the coal miners of America, the United Mine Workers, and this is to fulfill the promise that we made back in 1946,” Manchin said.
That promise was made by then-President Harry Truman as a way to keep coal production going in the years after World War II. Manchin and Capito said if Congress fails to keep the funding in place 16,000 miners will lose health care benefits at the end of the year with another 7,000 to lose benefits by next July. The free fall of the coal industry and company bankruptcies have reduced payments into the fund while the number of beneficiaries has grown.
Supporters pushed for a vote in the finance committee this week but learned that won’t happen. Opponents have said rescuing the fund would be a bailout that sets a bad precedent.
Capito said there’s a proposed fix and it should receive a vote.
“We’ve worked hard to bring this fix and to get it to the point (of a vote), we think, and we are assured the vote will come through the finance committee,” she said.
The fix includes annually taking money from the Abandoned Mine Land Fund until the benefits fund is stabilized.
Manchin said Wednesday there are 46 Democrats in the Senate supporting the fix and eight Republicans. He said they are working to get more support.
Senator Brown urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) to stop delaying the vote. He said there may be an effort to push the vote to the end of the year.
“They’ve earned this health care, these retiree payments, it’s been promised to them. These workers have more than held up their end of the bargain,” Brown said.
Thousands of miners, many of them from West Virginia, rallied outside the U.S. Capitol last week.