May 02, 2017

Hard work secures vote on Miners Protection Act | Charleston Gazette Mail

Since the continuing resolution passed in December with only a four-month “fix” for miners health care, I have continued the fight to get a permanent solution. That is why the first bill I re-introduced this year was the Miners Protection Act, to prevent the 22,600 retired miners from losing the health care and pensions they have earned and deserve. And this week, I am proud to say that Congress will vote on a permanent solution to ensure retired miners keep their health care.

Seventy years ago, President Harry Truman recognized the importance of the coal that our miners produced for this country and promised that the government would guarantee our brave coal miners’ benefits in return for their service. In turn, our coal miners propelled the American economy, ushered in decades of economic growth, started an energy boom that made the U.S. a superpower, and helped our nation to victory in two world wars. This agreement was a sacred promise between worker and country, and it captured the very best of America.

That’s why the Miners Protection Act has been my number-one priority. So much so that, in my conversations with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, I have stressed the importance of a permanent solution for our retired miners and their widows’ health care. They assured me that they would help fight to secure a permanent health care solution for our retired miners and that they were committed to working with me to get this done.

We had no better advocates for securing a permanent health care fix than the retired miners themselves who took the time and the energy to come up to Washington, D.C., to show my colleagues the real toll that years of work in the mines have had on them. They talked about how losing their health care benefits would affect them personally. For years, they have walked the halls of Congress, met with representatives and staff, worked the phones and wrote letters urging us to keep the promise that was made to them. This week, we will fulfill that promise.

Throughout this process, I have talked with thousands of West Virginians who would be devastated if they lost their health care, and received letters from miners and their families about the fear and anxiety that comes with not knowing if they will be able to go to the doctor or pay their bills. One that sticks out in my mind is from a 7-year-old girl from West Virginia who was heartbroken over the possibility that her grandparents would not be able to pay for their medicine. 

Because of this permanent health care fix, our retirees suffering from black lung, who gave not only their years of service but also sacrificed their health, will not be forced to choose between paying their electric bill or getting that oxygen tank they rely on to breathe. Surviving widows will not be forced to choose between buying their blood pressure medicine or putting food on their tables.

Securing these health care benefits demonstrates what Congress can do when we work together and put partisan politics aside. It’s a philosophy that I have followed throughout my life in public service — in the West Virginia Legislature, as your governor and now as I represent you as a U.S. senator.

Members of Congress are here for one reason: to do what is right on behalf of the people we represent. West Virginia coal miners are among the hardest-working people in America, and they have dedicated their lives to powering this nation and keeping it the strongest in the world. While we have more work to do to protect the pensions these miners earned, thanks to this fix, they will never again have to worry about their health care.