Since the continuing resolution passed in December with only a four-month “fix” for miners healthcare, I have been working to find solutions from all angles. That is why I re-introduced the Miners Protection Act this week, to prevent the more than 1,500 retired miners in Boone and Wyoming Counties from losing the healthcare they have earned and deserve.
For the next four months, the Miners Protection Act will be my number one priority. So much so that in my conversations with President-Elect Donald Trump and Vice President-Elect Pence I have brought up the importance of a long-term solution to retired miners and their widows’ healthcare. They assured me that they will help fight to secure a permanent health care solution for our retired miners, as guaranteed in the Miners Protection Act. They are committed to working with me to get this done, which is a refreshing change in Washington.
I have also discussed mapping out a clear path forward with Majority Leader McConnell and he promised me he is ready to work towards a long-term solution and is committed to doing so before the April deadline.
This past December, I could not in good conscience vote for the continuing resolution to keep the government funded because it only included a four-month “fix” for the miners healthcare. This means that 22,800 retired miners and their widows will be notified again in February that they are going to lose their healthcare benefits in April. While the temporary funding prevented miners from losing their healthcare on December 31, it just punted this issue to April, leaving our miners with months of uncertainty.
Since introducing this bipartisan bill in July 2015, it has gone through regular order. The bill was passed out of the Senate Finance Committee with an 18 to 8 vote and has broad bipartisan support. For these reasons, it was unacceptable that the Senate could not pass the full Miners Protection Act last year. For two years, we have known that this deadline was approaching. In the end, Congress failed to rise to the occasion and instead took the miners existing money to buy four additional months for one group and shorten the deadline by three months for another group. It was the wrong thing to do and we have to set it right.
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 that 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 look forward to working with President-Elect Trump and Vice President-Elect Pence, the new administration and my colleagues to provide certainty and peace of mind to our retired miners and their families. Our coal miners are some of the hardest working people in America, and they have dedicated their lives to powering this nation and keeping it the strongest in the world.
Sen. Joe Manchin is a Democratic Senator from West Virginia.