Schumer Touts Manchin Plan Tying Trade Rep to Miner Pensions

Nominee appears to need a waiver from Congress to take job

Manchin intends to push his plan to make miners’ benefits more permanent. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Manchin intends to push his plan to make miners’ benefits more permanent. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted February 27, 2017 at 5:07pm

BY NIELS LESNIEWSKI AND LINDSEY MCPHERSON, CQ Roll Call

Sen. Joe Manchin III is making yet another pitch to get certainty regarding health care and pension benefits for retired coal miners, with the backing of Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer.

Schumer said the West Virginia Democrat has a plan for dealing with coal miners’ pensions and health care that he would be releasing this week if he hasn’t already.

“President Trump has admitted privately he wants to get it done,” the New York Democrat said, noting he believes that the president has also committed to it.

A Manchin aide said that the plan Schumer referenced involved leveraging the nomination of Robert Lighthizer to be U.S. Trade Representative in order to secure passage of both the miner pension and health benefits, which have been operating under a stopgap extension.

Manchin told Bloomberg BNA before the February recess that he planned to make the case for the miner benefits as part of the USTR debate, but Schumer was not mentioned in that report.

“I think on miners’ pensions we’ve been promised and promised and extended and extended,” Manchin said. “This is the time to finish it, and I’m going to use the opportunity I have.”

While current Senate precedents require only a simple majority to limit debate on confirming nominees to positions other than the Supreme Court, Lighthizer is another special case.

Like Defense Secretary James Mattis, who faced a 60-vote test on legislation that would allow his confirmation because he had not been out of the military for the statutory requirement of seven years, Lighthizer appears to need a waiver because he has been a registered foreign agent since he registered to represent Brazil in 1985.

Federal lobbying statues thus bar him from serving as the nation’s top trade representative.

Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi were appearing together at the National Press Club to offer a prebuttal to President Donald Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday evening.

Pelosi said coal miners would be visiting with Democrats on Capitol Hill this week.