Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., are to be applauded for gaining traction with their effort to shore up pensions and health care benefits for coal miners.
Under their bill, money from the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Program would be moved to the miner’s pension plan, which is facing the stark reality of running out of funds. If enacted, the legislation would secure pension benefits for about 92,000 miners and health care benefits for 13,000. It’s vitally important to do this now, as five coal companies, including Murray Energy, have filed for bankruptcy this year, which could put pension plans at those operations in jeopardy.
Manchin and Capito have been fighting this battle for years, but the bill’s sudden momentum is thanks to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., signing on.
That’s right, the man who embraces the nickname “Grim Reaper” because his legacy is one of killing legislation and stalling out the opposition, suddenly wants to get the ball rolling on something. Not just something, but something that would help the working class.
McConnell is a known, cold-blooded calculator with self-preservation topping his list of needs. The play here could be chalked up to a few things, not the least of which was Kentucky Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s narrow defeat earlier this week in a state President Donald Trump carried by 30 points. Trump even conducted a huge rally for Bevin the night before the election. It either wasn’t enough or, perhaps more frightening for McConnell, had no impact at all. Maybe it even had a negative impact. (Bevin is calling for a recanvas, but it’s unlikely that will change the result.)
Although the race was close, Bevin was one of the most unpopular governors in the country, and that had to give McConnell pause. For one, McConnell himself is deeply unpopular in Kentucky, with approval ratings fluctuating between the mid- to high 30s, depending on the poll. Even when he was at a relative high of 38 percent, according to a summer Morning Consult poll, he still ranked as the least popular U.S. senator in the country.
The Grim Reaper is in survival mode, and parts of Kentucky have been hit just as hard as West Virginia by coal’s decline. Funny how a little political pressure can get someone to actually do something that benefits their constituents.