CHARLESTON, W.Va.-(AP) Updated: 11/6/2019
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is co-sponsoring a bill with West Virginia's two U.S. senators and others aimed at preserving the pensions of about 92,000 retired coal miners and the health-care benefits of another 13,000 working miners.
Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia announced the bill Wednesday.
McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, says in the statement that he raised the issue of protecting miner pensions and health benefits with President Donald Trump this week, and is ``committed to continuing to work with him and my colleagues'' toward a solution.
The bill would transfer money from the Abandoned Mine Land fund to prevent the insolvency of a 1974 miners' pension plan, and add coal company bankruptcies from 2018 and 2019 to 2017 health-care legislation.
Democratic Senators from several states-including West Virginia and Ohio-are calling on the Senate leadership to get behind an extension to coal miners' pensions and health care.
The federal miners pension fund Is expected to become insolvent by 2022, although West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin says that could happen sooner if any major coal company goes bankrupt in the near future.
Manchin called on his Republican counterpart in the Senate, Shelley Moore Capito, to pressure the Senate leadership to bring a bill he's sponsoring to the Senate floor.
"All I'm asking is, have some Republican colleagues vote for it," Manchin told our Washington, D.C. bureau Wednesday. "Go ask (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell, it's on his desk. He's the leader of their caucus. If he'll just put it on the floor, it'll vote. (Capito's) bill is the same as ours."
"I talked to Sen. McConnell yesterday, to get this moved to the Senate floor," Capito told us Wednesday afternoon. "We have 25,000 coal miners in West Virginia whose pensions are not extravagant, but who rely on these pensions."
The pension fund covers 82,000 retired miners nationwide, and 20,000 current workers.
More than 300 active members and retirees of the United Mine Workers of America attended a conference Wednesday to learn more about their benefits.
The union is urging Congress to pass legislation that will save pensions for more than 106,000 active miners and their widows.
Miners from West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia were invited to the informational conference at a hotel in Charleston. Organizers filled them in on the status of the legislation.
Congress is considering adding funding for pensions to an existing bill that deals with retirees' health care.
The miners are being urged to keep in contact with their legislators until it's added.
UMWA International President Cecil Roberts says he believes there are enough votes in the House, but he is unsure of what type of influence the Senate will face.
"We're facing, right as we gather here today, somewhere around 2023 or the latter part of 2022, the plan becoming insolvent," said Roberts. "If it becomes insolvent, PBGC -- Public Benefit Guarantee Corporation -- will collapse too, which protects everybody's pensions in America."