Democrats: McCon­nell fix for min­ers’ health care in­ad­e­quate

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Se­nate Democrats on Tues­day blasted a pro­posal by Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell to tem­po­rar­ily pro­tect health care ben­e­fits for thou­sands of re­tired coal min­ers.

The ben­e­fits are set to ex­pire at the end of the year, and McCon­nell said he is work­ing with House Speaker Paul Ryan to in­clude money for the min­ers in a short-term spend­ing bill slated for a vote this week. But Democrats said the GOP so­lu­tion only lasts for a few months and does not pro­tect pension ben­e­fits that also are at risk. McCon­nell’s pro­posal would pay for min­ers’ health care for the next four months by seiz­ing money from their cur­rent health-care plan, Democrats said.

“The Repub­li­can leader is turn­ing his back on Amer­i­can coal min­ers,” said Sen. Sher­rod Brown, DOhio. Brown and other Democrats said they will push for a bi­par­ti­san bill that would pro­tect re­tire­ment and health-care ben­e­fits for about 120,000 re­tired coal min­ers and their fam­i­lies.

Repub­li­cans have blocked a vote on the bill on the Se­nate floor. McCon­nell and other GOP lead­ers are wary of bail­ing out union­ized work­ers, with some ar­gu­ing that all coal min­ers should get the help. Some Repub­li­cans also say the bill could pres­sure Congress to of­fer sim­i­lar help to other cash-strapped pension funds. Their op­po­si­tion was crit­i­cized by Brown and other Democrats. “We had the chance to pro­tect the re­tire­ment and health care coal min­ers have earned and save tax­pay­ers money in the process, but Wash­ing­ton lead­ers chose to pull a bait and switch in­stead,” Brown said. “This is ev­ery­thing that’s wrong with Wash­ing­ton.”

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he would block other bills on the Se­nate floor un­til min­ers get their full health care and pension money - about $3 bil­lion over the next 10 years. Manchin warned col­leagues they may have to stay through Christ­mas un­less the is­sue is re­solved.

In a speech on the Se­nate floor, Manchin said re­tired min­ers de­serve ben­e­fits that are now at risk amid the coal in­dus­try’s steep de­cline and bank­rupt­cies of sev­eral large min­ing com­pa­nies. With­out con­gres­sional in­ter­ven­tion, some of the funds could run out of cash by next year, ac­cord­ing to the United Mine Work­ers of Amer­ica. “We are the coun­try that we are be­cause of the hard work that they’ve done,” Manchin said, re­fer­ring to min­ers in his state and across Ap­palachia. “If we don’t stand for the peo­ple that have made our coun­try as great as it is, we stand for noth­ing,” Manchin said.

McCon­nell said his plan would pro­tect ben­e­fits for min­ers suf­fer­ing from what he called the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s “war on coal,” com­bined with “chal­lenges within the en­ergy mar­ket (that) have led to a dra­matic in­crease in bank­rupt­cies and lost coal jobs, ex­haust­ing the health ben­e­fits of thou­sands of coal work­ers and re­tirees.”

While he rec­og­nizes the plan “will not solve the chal­lenges of ev­ery coal miner or re­tiree in Ken­tucky, this pro­vi­sion will help ad­dress many of the health care needs of thou­sands of min­ers who fell vic­tim to the steep down­turn in coal pro­duc­tion,” McCon­nell said.

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