Senate Dems Vow to Hold Up Bills Until Vote on Coal Miners' Healthcare

WASHINGTON -- After Democrats took an Election Day hit in coal country, a group of Senate Democrats has vowed to block unanimous consent bills until a pension shortfall for retired mine workers is addressed.

Last month, 22 senators wrote to congressional leadership urging that the Miners Protection Act, sponsored by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), be passed before Congress leaves for the year.

“Their clear message is that passing this legislation is not just critical for saving the lives of tens of thousands of coalfield retirees, it represents a ‘continuation of a longstanding commitment by our government to lifetime health and retirement benefits for our miners,'" United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) president Cecil E. Roberts said in a Nov. 22 statement.

“These retirees earned their retirement benefits through decades of dangerous, backbreaking work providing our nation with the energy it needed to become the most powerful on earth. They aren’t asking for a handout, they are simply asking the United States government to keep its promise to them," Roberts continued. “Some disasters, like floods and earthquakes, happen quickly and cause immediate suffering and loss of life. The disaster that will come to America’s coalfields if Congress fails to act on the Miners Protection Act will move slower, but will have the same terrible, deadly outcome."

Manchin's bill amends the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 to address potential shortages in the Multiemployer Health Benefit Plan healthcare coverage for retired coal miners.

The Senate is in recess from Dec. 19 through the end of the year. Manchin's office said 16,300 retired coal miners will lose their healthcare Dec. 31 if Congress doesn't act.

Manchin, along with Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), and Mark Warner (D-Va.) vowed Monday to block any unanimous consent requests unless the pension problem is remedied.

“For several months, we have joined thousands of our states’ retired coal miners and their families to call for a vote on this bipartisan, paid-for bill. And for several months those calls have gone unanswered," the senators said in a joint statement. "These miners cannot wait another day and it’s up to us to protect what they’ve earned for a lifetime of dangerous, backbreaking work."

"We are confident this bill would pass on the floor and we demand action to provide long-term certainty for these miners.”

Manchin said Monday that he met with President-elect Trump last week for "a wide-ranging and constructive conversation about the future of our country and how we can work together to help the state of West Virginia."

"I was humbled and honored to share my views with the President-elect and assured him that I am willing to work in a bipartisan manner to find commonsense solutions to the serious challenges we face," he said. "I have always believed that public officials must put their state and country first and set aside partisan politics to do what’s right for the people they serve. It is why I truly look forward to continuing the conversation with President-elect Trump later this week on how we can work together to make that happen."