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The GOP-controlled House on Thursday easily passed the bill which extends healthcare benefits, but not pensions, to retired miners for four months. (Photo: Getty)

It's Love for Coal, Not Workers as GOP Gives Miners 'Slap in the Face'

Democrats wage battle over short-term spending bill to fight for one year, not four months, of guaranteed healthcare

Andrea Germanos

A bloc of Democratic U.S. Senators on Friday is threatening a temporary government shutdown over a short-term spending bill that shows Republicans' love for coal extended not to the workers who've toiled in the mines.

The GOP-controlled House on Thursday easily passed the bill which extends healthcare benefits, but not pensions, to retired miners for four months.

But extending them just until April, said United Mine Workers of America International president Cecil E. Roberts, "is a slap in the face to all 22,000 of them who desperately need their health care next month, next year, and for the rest of their lives."

Sen. Joe Manchin, who's trying to short up opposition in his chamber to block it, called the four moths "not only a nonstarter" but "inhumane."

Manchin and his allies are shooting for a one-year extension for the healthcare benefits guaranteed seventy years ago by President Harry S. Truman.

Calling for an end to the impasse, J. David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), said that lawmakers should prevent a government shutdown by making sure the miners have access to the benefits and protections they rightfully earned.

"Our brothers and sisters at the United Mine Workers of America are facing a crisis that can be easily averted if senators do the right thing and include the full Miners Protection Act in the must-pass continuing resolution," Cox said in a statement. "These hard-working men and women have earned their pensions and benefits, fair and square. The Senate needs to step up to the plate."

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urged the Democrats to just give in because he said his party members would extend the benefits again in April.

The Wall Street Journal writes:

Unless 41 senators block the spending bill in a procedural vote early Saturday morning, the Senate could still pass the legislation on Sunday. A brief partial government shutdown is likely to have a minimal impact if funding can be approved by Monday.

As the political battles carries on, many retired miners continue to suffer a "slow death from black lung disease and other chronic ailments."

But if the shutdown does take hold, AFGE's Cox said the harm now being done to the miners will spread further.

"A government shutdown is never something that we want to see happen. Failing to fund the government’s operations has real-world implications for everyone in this country," he said. "Unlike previous shutdowns that were waged purely for political gain and personal retribution, lawmakers today are playing with the rightfully earned health care benefits and pensions of 12,500 retirees and their dependents."

A shutdown, he said, would hurt millions of public employees and federal workers during the holiday season.

"During a government shutdown, vital government programs and services are brought to a halt because federal employees are not allowed to go to work. Those who do go to work are forced to do so without pay.  This shutdown will have a far-reaching economic impact on the entire country as 85 percent of federal workers live outside the Washington metropolitan area. Families shouldn’t have to worry about getting their next paycheck, and that could soon be a frightening reality to many."

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