Congressional leaders are cautiously optimistic that a budget deal could protect health benefits for retired miners.
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, said the Senate will back permanently extending health benefits for more than 22,000 retirees and beneficiaries.
Manchin said he spoke Wednesday with President Trump who said he supports the miners. Without Congressional action, miners benefits will expire at the end of the month.
At a press event in Washington, West Virginia’s Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito also called for a permanent fix, but she’s not declaring victory yet.
“Until it’s signed, sealed, delivered it’s not going to be ours, so we want to make sure we don’t jinx ourselves,” Capito said.
The funding for health benefits would likely be included in a spending bill required to fund the federal government. A vote is expected Friday.
Manchin said guaranteed funding for pensions, which retired union miners were also seeking, will not be included.
“We’re kicking the can down down the street on the pensions, we’ll come back and fight another day. But we must have a permanent fix for miners’ health care and that’s all we’re asking for.”
Manchin said miners’ health benefits will cost $1.3 billion. The money will likely come from a fund established to use fees from the mining industry to pay for reclamation of abandoned mine lands.
Retired union miners say the pension and health benefits were guaranteed for life, dating back to an agreement with the federal government first struck in the 1940s and renewed several times by Congress.