December 02, 2016

Manchin ready to keep Congress in session if there’s no vote on Miners Protection Act | MetroNews

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Joe Manchin says he’ll do what he has to do procedurally to keep Congress in session until Christmas if the provisions of the Miners Protection Act aren’t included in a bill to continue the funding of the federal government.

Manchin and fellow U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito have been pushing a financial fix for the program that has guaranteed funding of union miners’ pensions and lifetime health care since the 1940’s.

The provisions of the Miners Protection Act did not make it into a multi-billion dollar bill to fight the drug epidemic that was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday (21st Century Cures Act). It should have, Manchin said Thursday during an appearance on MetroNews “Talkline.”

“Our health care and pensions fit right into it perfectly but they wouldn’t put it in,” Manchin said. “They (supporters) couldn’t get it in.”

The next opportunity, according to Manchin, is the bill, a continuing resolution, to fund the operation of the federal government, which is scheduled to come to the Senate from the House next Monday.

“That’s my last hope. That’s my last opportunity,” Manchin said.

Congress wants to pass the continuing resolution by Dec. 9 and then head home for the holidays. Manchin said Thursday if the provisions of the Miners Protection Act aren’t in the bill he’ll make procedural moves to keep Congress in session through the holidays if he has to.

“I am not going to walk out of here Dec. 9. So if they think I am going to be the bad guy because I’m making them stay through Christmas–then so be it,” he said.

Approximately 12,500 retired union miners and the widows of retirees stand to lose their pension and health care benefits on Dec. 31 because the program that has funded the benefits will be exhausted. A number of coal company bankruptcies has significantly reduced the amount of money in the program. The protection act would transfer excess money from the Abandoned Mine Land fund to the 1974 UMWA pension plan to prevent its insolvency.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has so far failed to put the measure up for a vote. McConnell has expressed concern about the impact of pensions for non-union miners. The bill needs 60 votes to pass. Manchin said Thursday he believes 46 Democrats and 15 Republicans in the Senate would vote in favor of the measure if it makes it to the calendar. If not, Manchin is prepared to gather votes to keep Congress in session.

“I’ve got to get 41 senators that will vote to stay here and fight it for the sake of the people we’ve (the federal government) made a commitment to and the 12,500 retired miners and mostly the families (widows) are going to lose everything Dec. 31,” Manchin said.

Manchin plans to read letters on the Senate floor in the coming days from coal mining families.