December 10, 2016

Bill’s ‘fix’ for miner benefits inhumane, unacceptable | Charleston Gazette

This week, I was forced to vote against the continuing resolution to keep the government funded because it did not include an acceptable and reasonable solution for retired miners’ health care and pensions.

This four-month “fix” for the miners health care only means these men and women will be notified again in January that they are going to lose their health care benefits in April.

It also means we will have to keep fighting for the permanent benefits these hardworking men and women were promised time and time again.

Let me be clear, this is not a solution. This temporary fix is inhumane and unacceptable. Thousands of miners and their families will continue to face uncertainty and are still stuck counting down the days until they lose their hard-earned health care benefits.

I am proud Sen. Shelley Moore Capito stood with me in fighting for a long-term solution. I am deeply disappointed our House delegation chose to vote for a four-month extension and leave town before we secured a permanent fix for our retired miners and widows.

On Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and I had a productive conversation about a defined path forward for our country’s retired coal miners and widows who are on the verge of losing the health care benefits they were promised.

I believe McConnell and I have come to an agreement on how we can work together to come up with a permanent solution worthy of these brave miners and their families.

This has been a long, difficult fight, but I am not done fighting. I will not stop fighting until our retired miners’ health care and benefits are secured.

I introduced this bill in July 2015. After a legislative hearing earlier this year, the Senate Finance Committee passed this bill with a bipartisan vote of 18-8 in September clearing it for final passage. It is a thoroughly bipartisan bill with nearly as many Republican as Democratic co-sponsors and has broad support in the House of Representatives.

For these reasons, it is unacceptable that the Senate cannot pass the full Miners Protection Act. For two years, we have known this deadline was approaching. A partial temporary funding scheme is inadequate and unfair to the miners who have given so much to this country.

Because of this, I spent all of the past week on the Senate floor blocking everything until there was movement on miner’s health care. I did not take pride in blocking some good pieces of legislation — including my own, but I was left with no choice.

We, as a nation, have a moral obligation to uphold our promises to those who have given so much to our country.

Seventy years ago, President Harry S. Truman promised the government would guarantee our brave coal miners’ benefits in return for their service. As a result, coal miners propelled the American economy, ushering in decades of economic growth, started an energy boom that made the U.S. a superpower, and won two World Wars.

This agreement was a sacred bond between worker and country, and it captured the very best of America.

Without a permanent solution to this problem, our retirees suffering from black lung, who gave not only their years of service but also sacrificed their health, will be forced to choose between getting that oxygen tank they rely on to breathe or paying their electric bill. Surviving widows will be forced to choose between buying their blood pressure medicine or putting food on their tables.

I am in constant contact with the United Mine Workers of America and West Virginia coal miners, and, as I have for the past year, I will continue to fight every day until Congress ensures these miners are able to receive their modest pensions benefits without reduction and without imposing on the American taxpayer to do so.

As we head toward the holidays and the New Year, a time that should be filled with happiness and joy, thousands of miners and their families continue to agonize over how they are going to survive without their health care benefits.

I have received letters from hundreds of miners and their families, including a 7-year-old little girl heartbroken by the possibility her grandparents would not be able to pay for their medicine.

After such a divisive presidential election, I know many of you are rightly frustrated with Washington and its politicians. I am, too. Congress needs to show Americans, and particularly our miners, it can come together and honor a promise.

Though I know the work for our miners is not finished, I remain faithful in America’s political process and optimistic in its ability to enact meaningful change in people’s lives.

In this effort, I urge West Virginians to remain hopeful for our future, because together, we will continue to build a better, stronger Mountain State for everyone.