The "leader" of the Republicans in the Senate is willing to render retired miners homeless for political revenge. The Republicans are more concerned about their friends on Wall Street than they are about their staunchest supporters: whites in the working class.—Ronald David Jackson
|Illustration by DonkeyHotey.|
A Huge Coal Miners’ Pension Plan is on the Brink of Failure. One Senator is Blocking a Fix.
Despite bipartisan support for a plan to save the workers' retirement and healthcare, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stands in the way
When Sen. Mitch McConnell strode into the Capitol for last month’s State of the Union speech, he took with him a guest whose presence was sure to be seen as a slap against the Obama administration and its policies on coal.
“I brought along this unemployed coal miner here,” McConnell (R-Ky.) said, gesturing to fourth-generation mineworker Howard Abshire, “to see the person who put him out of work.”
The Senate majority leader said he wanted to call attention to President Obama’s “heartless” regulations that he argues have devastated communities in Abshire’s native eastern Kentucky. Yet just weeks earlier, McConnell’s office had delivered its own blow to Appalachian coal towns: It blocked efforts to rescue health and pension funds on which thousands of retired and disabled miners rely.
A plan that would ensure the solvency of the funds nearly made it through Congress in December as part of the bipartisan budget deal that cleared both chambers. But the bailout attempt — backed by key lawmakers from both political parties — was excluded from the deal at McConnell’s request, according to four Senate officials directly familiar with the events.
McConnell’s spokesman does not dispute that telling of events. And McConnell has not publicly explained his opposition to the measure.
Legislators from coal states had pressed for federal help to prevent what some have described as a looming national crisis: The United Mine Workers of America’s retirement and health-care funds currently support about 120,000 former miners and their families nationwide, but the account balances have rapidly declined as some coal companies shed dues-paying workers and others filed for bankruptcy protection. Without intervention, some of the funds — chiefly those associated with firms in bankruptcy — could run out of cash before spring, Congressional officials say.
McConnell has repeatedly clashed with the UMWA, the union that administers the funds. Two years ago, UMWA officials donated heavily to his political rival, Democrat Alison Grimes, during McConnell’s successful reelection bid.
During December’s bipartisan budget agreement, his stance was clear.
“It was a no-go issue for McConnell,” said a senior Senate aide with direct knowledge. Three other Democratic congressional officials confirmed his opposition to the measure. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity citing the sensitive nature of the budget negotiations.