McConnell Wants ‘Permanent Fix’ to Miner Health Care Program

Standoff over coal miner benefits complicated year-end spending talks

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he had supported a year-long extension of the retired coal miner benefits but faced opposition from House Republicans. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday he will seek a “permanent fix” to fortify a depleted health care program for retired coal miners that complicated negotiations earlier this month to keep the government funded.

“We’re going to try to go for a permanent fix because these folks deserve to be protected,” McConnell said in an interview on Kentucky public television Monday night.

“Their health care deserves to be protected. It’s important,” the Kentucky Republican said. “It’s collateral damage from the decline of the coal industry, much of it attributable to the policies of Barack Obama, which I’m hoping the new president will reverse.”

[Senate Averts Shutdown With Little Time to Spare]

McConnell added language extending miner benefits to the short-term continuing resolution that will keep the government funded through April. 

The program was set to expire on Dec. 31, putting more than 16,000 retired miners at risk. West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III’s advocacy raised the issue’s profile beyond coal country, though Senate Democrats never intended to use it to shut down the government.

[Manchin Backs Off Demand on CR, but It May Be Too Late to Deal]

McConnell pointed out that he had supported a year-long extension. Opposition from House Republicans led to an extension that runs through April, or the length of the CR.

That puts lawmakers back in the position of finding a fix this spring. Manchin has said he plans to work with McConnell on a long-term solution.

Lawmakers will likely point to the legislation the Senate Finance Committee approved 18-8 in September that was never taken up on the Senate floor.

Contact Bowman at bridgetbowman@rollcall.com and follow her on Twitter @bridgetbhc.

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