(Last month), after four long years of uncertainty, Congress came together to permanently secure healthcare and pensions for our nation’s coal miners. With an end of the year deadline looming Congress had to act to save the healthcare and pensions of nearly 100,000 coal miners and their families who were going into this holiday season fearing the benefits they earned would be gutted. But Congress did its job, and kept the promise made to our coal miners by including the Bipartisan American Miners Act in the end of year government funding bill.
We came together, Democrats and Republicans, to keep the promise to 92,000 miners nationwide, including 25,000 West Virginians, that the pension they earned would not be gutted next year. We protected healthcare for 13,000 miners, including 5,000 West Virginians who would have lost healthcare coverage by March. This shows that bipartisanship in Washington is not dead, and that when we work together, we can make real, positive changes for Americans and West Virginians.
It was the coal miners of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), our friends and neighbors, who made Washington look beyond politics and do what is right. Over the years, thousands of retired coal miners from across the country have come to Congress, year after year, to tell their stories and meet with every member of Congress they could. They walked the halls tirelessly fighting for what they have earned, what they have paid for and what they deserve.
In 1946, President Harry Truman recognized the importance of the workers that produced the coal for this country and put the full faith and credit of the United States behind the promise of lifetime healthcare and pensions for American coal miners. This agreement was a sacred promise between worker and country, and it captured the very best of our American values. Unfortunately, over the next 70 years, Wall Street took advantage of the loopholes in our bankruptcy laws and broke that promise.
That’s why I worked across the aisle in a bipartisan way to advance legislation that would protect these essential benefits. This journey has not been short or easy. We had to go through regular order and earn the approval of the relevant committees in the House and the Senate. We had to be pragmatic and take the wins when we could get them, without losing sight of the end goal. That’s how we protected healthcare for 22,600 miners in 2017, including roughly 10,000 West Virginians. We had to play hardball sometimes to break through the circus in Washington and get people’s attention. That’s why I halted all Senate action earlier (in the) month until a deal was reached. Because doing nothing was not an option.
It has been the honor of my life to lead this effort and bring together the coalition that made this possible. But, it truly would not have happened without the UMWA. It would not have happened without the West Virginia city councils and county commissions that submitted resolutions of support. It would not have happened without the tireless advocacy of thousands of West Virginians that demanded action and would accept nothing less.
Coal miners are the most patriotic people in America. They have done the heavy lifting. They provided the energy that made us the greatest country on earth and the super power of the world. Because of what they have done for our country, we have won two world wars, built iconic American cities and a strong middle class. They continue to provide the resources that make us the energy leader of the world, all while advancing the American dream. Today, I am proud that we have finally come together to keep the promise.
Manchin (D-W.Va.) is the state's senior senator in Congress.