Manchin: Pushing for a ‘Full Fix’ on Miner Benefits

December standoff brought only a stopgap deal

From left, Sens. Bob Casey and Joe Manchin III, and Reps. Matt Cartwright and Robert C. Scott conduct a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center to introduce miner’s health care legislation the "Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act of 2017" and the "Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act of 2017." (Photo by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The debate over miner health care and pensions that brought the Senate to the precipice of a government shutdown in December might be coming back.

Coal miners from the United Mine Workers have been all over the Capitol meeting with lawmakers in recent weeks.

Sen. Joe Manchin III pledged Wednesday that miners seeking assurances about health care benefits would get more than a fix for the duration of the next government funding bill — whether lawmakers advance another continuing resolution or a much larger omnibus.

Speaking after a news conference, the Democrat from West Virginia said he needed to trust but verify.

“I’ve been down this road before,” Manchin said. “Until I see something? I don’t believe it until I see it, and I’m going to use any vehicle I have to make sure that we don’t leave here until the miners are taken care of.”

Manchin said the Democratic caucus remained “1000-percent behind me.”

“We’re pushing for a full fix as we speak, and we’re going to get something accomplished this time,” the West Virginia Democrat said during the news conference. “And it’s not going to be a three or four month extension.”

Manchin and other supporters of the miners want long-term solutions for both health care needs and previously guaranteed pension benefits. He appeared Wednesday with fellow Democrats Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Reps. Robert C. Scott of Virginia and Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania to re-introduce separate mine safety and black lung benefit measures.

“I thought that on January 21, with both houses under Republican majority and a Republican president who talks a lot about coal miners, I thought it would go through — or they’d at least try to get it through — as fast as possible,” Casey said of the miner health benefits. “Nothing. No progress at all.”

President Donald Trump made his support for miners in coal country in places like West Virginia and Pennsylvania a key to his 2016 White House run, but GOP leadership has not addressed the pension issues.

“I’m told that they’re willing to agree — we’ve heard this from Majority Leader McConnell — to agree on the health care protection. It’s ridiculous, because within a year to two years we’ll be in the same boat again with the pensions. We have it paid-for now,” Manchin said. “If we don’t do it today, it won’t be as cheap as it is going to be today.”

Manchin has sought to use the nomination of Robert Lighthizer to be U.S. trade representative and a potential waiver as a vehicle for the miner benefits.

Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch said earlier in the week that he planned to move ahead with a vote Thursday on the nomination of Lighthizer. In a statement, Hatch indicated there was yet to be a breakthrough with Democrats over the waiver of regulations on foreign lobbying they say Lighthizer needs for his nomination to advance.

“They kept every promise that they were supposed to keep,” Casey said of the miners. “They’ve kept all the tough promises. The government’s got the easy promise.”

Ellyn Ferguson contributed to this report.

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