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Pressure mounts to fund miner benefits as government shutdown looms

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Pressure mounts to fund miner benefits as government shutdown looms

Bob Murray, president and CEO of Murray Energy Corp., recently reached out to President-elect Donald Trump to ask that government action be taken on the ailing pension and healthcare plans, a Murray spokesperson confirmed with S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., recently told the Charleston Gazette-Mail that he was prepared to ask help from Trump in a meeting scheduled for Dec. 12 to get involved with supporting provisions related to the Miners Protection Act he sponsored.

Manchin and other Senate Democrats had threatened to block any bills from passing by unanimous consent in the U.S. Senate until union miners' healthcare and pension funds are saved by a year-end budget resolution.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a release that Senate Democrats wanted to delay a bill that most House Democrats supported.

"Now, while some Senate Democrats may want to delay into a government shutdown, House Democrats overwhelmingly rejected that approach … and, of course, it includes provisions that will guarantee that retired coal miners in Kentucky and other states won't lose their health benefits at the end of this month," McConnell said.

"Would I have preferred that provision to be more generous? Of course I would have," he added.

A coal miner recently criticized McConnell for avoiding support for the parts of the bill due to an aversion to unions.

McConnell did not action the Miners Protection Act for the Senate voting floor as a stand-alone bill, and there has been some resistance among Republicans to the provisions in the proposed legislation to bail out the struggling pensions of retired coal miners.

Dean Hubbard, the director of the Sierra Club's labor program, said in a Dec. 9 release that McConnell's "disregard for coal workers and working families across the country is nothing short of astonishing."

"Instead of proactively working to help coal workers and their families by passing the Miners' Protection Act and the RECLAIM Act, he is leaving them left in limbo as he and Congress leave to enjoy the holidays with their families. These men and women have occupied the most grueling profession imaginable, lost loved ones, and sacrificed their health to power our country for over a century," Hubbard said.

Nonetheless, McConnell said in the release that he had requested the House extend the healthcare of union miners for a full year. "But we'll be back at it in April, and I think it's highly unlikely that we'll take it away," he said.

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., spoke on the Senate floor on Dec. 9 about the retired miners and widowers who would lose their pensions. "We owe it to thousands of retired miners to keep our promise," he said.

Sen. John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, laid the blame on the Obama administration and Senate Democrats for getting the miners into the fix in the first place through eight years of regulatory pressure that sent companies into bankruptcy.

"Any attempt by Democrats to blame someone else is just a distraction," Barrasso said on the Senate floor on Dec. 9. "Health and pension funds can pay benefits for retired workers as long as the mines are actually working and they can mine coal and sell coal and make money."

He continued: "That's the way to help the retired miners. Let the other miners get back to work."