CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Those vowing to fight for a long-term fix to union miners’ healthcare plans lost a showdown in Congress, but West Virginia’s congressional delegation vowed to take up the fight again next month.
Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., sent a letter to President-elect Donald Trump, asking him to work on the issue as he assumes office. Trump promised to fight for miners and their jobs when he visited West Virginia last spring.
“Preserving retirement benefits for our nation’s coal miners is among the most important and pressing items on the congressional agenda,” Capito wrote to Trump “Your recent election has provided hope in West Virginia communities…
“I look forward to working with you on policies that will help put our miners back to work and rebuild local economies that rely on energy production. It is just as important that we act to preserve health care and pension benefits for retirees who have suffered from the down turn in the coal industry.”
Miners benefits, severely dwindling after the financial collapse of 2008 and a series of bankruptcies in the coal industry, were set to expire at the end of December.
The benefits did get a short-term reprieve when they were included in a continuing resolution funding the government until April. The government would have shut down at midnight Friday without passage of the continuing resolution.
Senator Joe Manchin, who had pledged to block votes and keep Congress in session until a long-term fix for benefits passed, voted against a cloture that fast-tracked the continuing resolution. But Manchin backed off his earlier threats after a discussion with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
“Majority Leader McConnell and I talked about a defined path forward for the 22,800 retired coal miners and widows who are on the verge of losing the healthcare benefits they were promised,” Manchin stated.
“I continue to think the four month fix included in today’s Continuing Resolution is not a meaningful solution to this dire problem. That is why I opposed cloture and urged my colleagues to do the same. I believe Senator McConnell and I have come to an agreement on how we can work together to come up with a permanent solution that is worthy of these brave miners and their families. This has been a long fight and it is far from over.”
The House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted for the continuing resolution on Thursday and then dismissed until January — leaving the Senate with little recourse.
Congressman David McKinley, R-W.Va, who spoke on the House floor in favor of a long-term benefits extension, also vowed to work toward that goal again in January.
“While it’s disappointing to see only a short term extension of benefits at this time, this issue was way too important to offer false hope and risk our miners walking away with nothing. This CR has now given us a chance to fight another day,” McKinley stated.