Manchin: Budget bill would have gutted black lung fund

WHEELING — Senate Democrats in West Virginia and Ohio voted to shoot down a House bill that would have paid for President Donald Trump’s border wall and averted a partial shutdown of the federal government.

The centerstone of the bill is $5.7 billion Trump wants to build a wall at the southern U.S. border with Mexico, but it wasn’t the only issue in the legislation to raise concerns, according to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

Manchin said he opposed the bill because it gutted the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, and also didn’t include a fix for miners’ pensions.

“Let me be perfectly clear: I support funding the border wall,” Manchin said. “I have voted for every border wall funding bill that has come before the Senate from $1.6 to $46 billion, and I will continue to support border wall funding.

“However, a bill that funds border security but devastates our brave mining families is a bad bill, and there is no rational reason we can’t have both — border security and keeping our promise to miners. That is what I will continue to fight and vote for.”

The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund is a lifeline for more than 25,000 sick and dying miners and their dependents, according to Manchin.

“And unless Congress acts immediately, this already indebted trust fund will be more than $15 billion in debt by 2050. We can’t lose this fight today because it only gets harder to save these miners,” he said.

And without a fix for the Miners Pension Fund, more than 26,000 retired miners and widows in West Virginia will lose their pensions. The checks average less than $600 a month, he said.

“It’s a sad day in America when partisan politics penalize the people who did the most for this country and I will not stop until these failures of leadership are fixed,” Manchin said. “Today marks the third time Congress has voted for a short term solution to partially fund FY2019 instead of doing the hard work of creating a budget the American people can be proud of. Earlier this week, I allowed a clean CR to proceed because I was told it was the only thing that could pass and I got assurances that the cuts to the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund funding stream would be stopped. Clearly, that plan is no longer credible. I was also told that miners’ pensions would be handled as soon as we got back. So I am taking a stand for our miners today.

“Governing this way is embarrassing for both Democrats and Republicans,” he said.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, also cast a “no” vote.

“While the Senate did its job and unanimously passed a bill to keep the government open, President Trump instead chose to throw a temper tantrum,” he said. “The president says he wants border security yet he’s forcing border agents to work without pay over the holidays, he’s harming farmers who need FSA (Farm Service Agency) offices and food banks that rely on USDA (the U.S. Department of Agriculture) over the holidays, and he’s hurting working Americans who expect elected leaders to do their jobs.”

Meanwhile, both Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, voted in favor of the bill.

On the House side, Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, continued his support of President Trump’s actions.

“Of course, I don’t want a government shutdown — no one does,” he said. “But, we need border security. And, in this case of a very limited shutdown of only a handful of agencies, it would have very little impact on the Ohio Valley.”

According to information provided by Congressional offices, about three-quarters of the federal government is funded for the rest of the fiscal year. A government shut down now would be a “a partial shutdown.”

Funding already is in place for the military, the Veterans Administration, the Department of Energy, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Labor.

The agencies that would be impacted if funding lapses include the departments of homeland security, transportation, justice, commerce, the state department, agriculture, interior, treasury and housing and urban development. Also affected would be agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the Internal Revenue Service.

Mike Hamilton, legislative director for Rep. David B. McKinley, R-W.Va., said Friday afternoon the office wasn’t yet releasing a statement.

“We don’t have a comment on the record since the situation is still in flux,” Hamilton said. “We are still hopeful there will be some resolution and it doesn’t result in a shutdown.”

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