Congress

McConnell, Manchin introduce bills to fix health care benefits for retired coal miners

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., talks with reporters at Trump Tower in New York on Jan. 9, 2017, after meeting with President-elect Donald Trump.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., talks with reporters at Trump Tower in New York on Jan. 9, 2017, after meeting with President-elect Donald Trump. AP

Two Senate bills unveiled Tuesday would permanently fix a health care fund for retired coal miners and their widows, whose benefits were set to expire at the end of April.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, introduced his own bill, the HELP for Coal Miners Health Care Act.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, and nine other senators reintroduced the Miners Protection Act, which the Senate Finance Committee approved last year but which did not make it to the Senate floor.

McConnell’s bill appeared similar to Manchin’s but added language that blames the decline in coal industry jobs on federal regulations enacted under President Barack Obama and calls on Congress to roll back those rules.

“Recognizing the damage that has been done over the past eight years, my legislation also calls on Congress to work with the incoming Trump administration to repeal regulations that are harming the coal industry and to support economic development efforts in coal country,” McConnell said in a statement.

President-elect Donald Trump campaigned on a promise of putting miners back to work, but the industry continues to face competitive pressure from cheaper natural gas produced by hydraulic fracturing. Many of Trump’s Cabinet nominees support expanded natural-gas production.

Health care coverage for more than 16,000 retired United Mine Workers of America beneficiaries was set to expire at the end of December, but Congress extended it for four months in a bigger bill to fund the entire government through April.

“While I advocated for a longer-term solution, we did secure a four-month plan,” McConnell said. “I made a commitment at that time to work with my colleagues on a long-term health care solution for these retired miners.”

Manchin said he’d spoken to McConnell, Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence about finding a permanent fix for the miners’ benefits.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues to provide certainty and peace of mind to our retired miners and their families by ensuring they receive the benefits they’ve earned and deserve,” Manchin said in a statement.

Manchin’s bill has 20 sponsors, including several coal-state Democrats and Republican Sens. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Rob Portman of Ohio and Dan Sullivan of Alaska.

United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts said there was no reason for lawmakers to delay.

“Congress must act, and act fast, to resolve this issue and allow these senior citizens to live their lives without a continuing sense of doom hanging over their heads,” he said in a statement.

Curtis Tate: 202-383-6018, @tatecurtis

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