Enact permanent help for coal retirees
The short-term rescue retired coal miners were handed by Congress last week will have to do — for now. But coal-state lawmakers are right to reject it as a shut-up-and-go-away moment in Washington.
For months, members of Congress from West Virginia, Ohio and other states had fought to gain enactment of what had been termed a “bailout” bill for the miners. It came down to a near-standoff last week, as both the Senate and House of Representatives were wrapping up business before the Christmas break.
At stake are health care insurance and pension benefits for thousands of miners and their families. The impending collapse of a system worked out between the United Mine Workers union and coal operators many years ago is the problem. Mine closures, many because of President Barack Obama’s policies, have limited contributions into the insurance and pension funds.
Without a bailout, an estimated 16,300 retired miners would have lost health care insurance on Jan. 1.
Some members of Congress balked at such assistance, however. As we have pointed out, they have some valid concerns that need to be dealt with.
Last week, lawmakers were on the verge of leaving Washington without doing anything for the retirees. That was despite a move led by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., threatening to block other budget-related action.
In the end, Manchin and others involved in that threat relented. Congress approved a measure to fund the health care benefits for four months.
That certainly was better than nothing. But, given the slowness with which anything happens in Congress, a four-month reprieve is worrisome.
As many lawmakers, including Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and U.S. Rep. David McKinley, both R-W.Va., have urged, President-elect Donald Trump should make a permanent solution for the retirees a fundamental goal of his first few months in office.
Capito put it well in a letter to Trump, reminding him of his pledge to turn back the regulatory assault on the coal industry. “It is just as important that we act to preserve health care and pension benefits for retirees,” she added.