Senate battles over miners deal
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday said help for coal miners will be included in a short-term government funding bill.
“I’ve spoken to the Speaker on a number of occasions about an issue facing coal miner retirees like those I represent in Kentucky and have insisted the CR include a provision to address that issue so these retirees don’t lose their healthcare benefits at the end of the year,” McConnell said.
McConnell added during a weekly press conference that he is pushing for an extension of miners’ healthcare benefits through the length of the continuing resolution.
The funding bill is expected to be released later Tuesday and has to be passed by Friday to prevent a government shutdown.
Democrats, however, quickly signaled that McConnell’s offer didn’t go far enough.
“We don’t agree with that,” Reid told reporters. “We think it should be a full five year funding provision.”
Thousands of retired miners and their families are expected to lose their healthcare benefits at the end of the year unless Congress acts.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) indicted Tuesday that he was still planning to block any bill from being cleared through the Senate by unanimous consent.
“I hope that my colleagues would understand where I’m coming from and I would hope they would understand and be with me on this for the sake of all these families and all these widows and all these miners who have given so much to our country,” he said.
Manchin stressed that he had spoken to McConnell and wasn’t making the decision to block other bills lightly.
“Everyone is wanting to get out of here, wants to go home for Christmas — I’m sorry, no,” he told reporters.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Manchin has support within the caucus.
“He has the backing of many Democratic senators who feel that he has been patient to a fault,” he said. “It sounds like a Mitch McConnell war on coalminers or their widows.”
The Senate’s No. 2 Democrat also warned that absent a deal to spend up consideration of the CR lawmakers will need to pass a brief government funding extension.
A separate miners’ pension plan is headed toward insolvency, but Democrats signaled Tuesday they could delay that fight until 2017.
A bill backed by senators in both parties would provide an underfunded pension plan for miners by using excess money from a federal program for cleaning abandoned mines.