| WASHINGTON, Sept 8
WASHINGTON, Sept 8 About 10,000 retired coal
miners and their families descended upon the U.S. Congress on
Thursday to pressure lawmakers to pass stalled legislation that
would prevent 22,000 of them from losing their pension and
health benefits as soon as early 2017.
A bipartisan group of senators is trying to pass legislation
to ensure the retirees' coverage with the United Mine Workers of
America's retirement and healthcare funds, which are dwindling
as some coal companies drop benefits in their bankruptcy
Coal has been an issue in national politics. With just weeks
to go before the presidential and congressional elections in
November, time for passage of the bill is limited.
The union said the federal government was obligated to
ensure coal workers continue to get the benefits. The UMWA
pension currently supports about 120,000 former miners and their
"These miners put in decades of back-breaking work in
America's coal mines to energize our nation," UMWA International
President Cecil Roberts said.
But some Republican senators, including Senate Majority
Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have hesitated to support
the legislation, either because they do not want to be seen
bailing out unionized workers or because it does not address
what they say is President Barack Obama's regulatory "war" on
the coal industry.
Legislation backers say they are obligated to uphold a
guarantee made by President Harry Truman to avert a strike in
1946 to protect the benefits.
Republican West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito said
on Wednesday that the payments were less than $600 a month.
"These aren't lavish pensions," she said. "This is food.
This is the trip to see the doctor."
If Congress fails to pass the Miners' Protection Act, the $5
billion federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp, an agency that
backstops failed private-sector pension programs and is already
financially strained, would be responsible for the plans.
West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said 46
Democratic senators and at least eight Republicans backed the
bill. Three of the Republicans - Rob Portman of Ohio, Pat Toomey
of Pennsylvania and Mark Kirk of Illinois - are up for
reelection this November in tight races in coal-producing
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who has
criticized bankrupt coal companies for "shirking" the
responsibility to pay healthcare benefits for retirees, voiced
support for the bill.
"I firmly believe that if you spent your life keeping the
lights on for our country, we can't leave you in the dark,"
She has also proposed a $30 billion package to help coal
states adapt to a changing economy. That plan has been
overshadowed by a comment she made earlier this year that she
would put coal companies out of business.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has repeatedly
pledged to put coal miners back to work in the mines but has not
offered any details. His campaign was unavailable for comment.
Capito said McConnell had said the Senate Finance Committee
would take up the bill as soon as next week.
McConnell spokesman Robert Steurer told Reuters there were
no scheduling announcements at this time. The issue "deserves an
open, transparent debate through regular order," he added.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)