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Manchin cautiously hopeful of permanent Miners Protection Act fix


The Register-Herald

BECKLEY, W.Va. — Sen. Joe Manchin says he is “cautiously hopeful” of a permanent health care fix for miners after hearing support from President Donald Trump and the Senate majority leader.

However, Manchin said there still may be a few hurdles in the future, saying “it’s not done until it’s done.”

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

In a conference call with state media Wednesday about the Miners Protection Act, the senator expressed confidence that several members of the Senate would support a permanent fix, but expressed his concerns about the House, saying he has heard everything from a 20-month to five year-extension.

He said a permanent fix could cost about $1.3 billion.

The Miners Protection Act is a bipartisan bill aimed at keeping health care and retirement benefits for retired miners and their families facing uncertainty as a result of the financial crisis and corporate bankruptcies.

At the expiration of the current continuing resolution, due Friday, more than 22,000 retired coal miners throughout the country will lose their health care benefits. In West Virginia, almost 8,500 will be affected.

Manchin said that in the last two days, he has spoken to President Donald Trump twice about the issue. He said Trump has expressed his support to him for miners’ health benefits.

“Having him on our side along with (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell wanting a permanent fix gives me greater hope this is going to be accomplished,” Manchin said, later adding, “Talking to the president two days on one subject is pretty impressive. …I will meet with him again this afternoon where we will be briefed on North Korea. He’s been engaging and concerned about miners about health care needs and he said he’s behind us 100 percent. He told me I could relay that to you all.”

“I’m very hopeful but I’m very cautiously hopeful. … It’s not done until it’s done.”

He said in the Senate, all 48 Democrats have expressed support to him about a permanent fix along with about 10-12 Republicans.

On the House side, Manchin said he’s heard a 20-month extension.

“I’m not accepting 20 months,” he said. “There is no reason to accept 20 months. When the miners are gone, it’s done. It’s not like we are adding more to it.”

As Capito said in a recent Charleston visit, Manchin also said he expects only health care to be addressed at this time, not pensions — although he said he thinks both should be addressed.

Manchin said he has no intention of a government shut down or threatening such, saying if anything, he hopes for an extension to deal with it.

He expressed his frustrations, saying, “this should have been done last December.”

“Don’t shut down, just extend a day or two,” he said. “Let’s stay and work this out.”

However, he said it needs to be done by the end of the week. He said he may hear more of a short continuing resolution and said he will do whatever he can to work right through it and stay until it’s completed.

He said a vote could happen as early as Thursday afternoon, but said it looks to him more like Friday or Friday night.

“One of two things can happen. It has to be completed or extended. We are not going to shut down or threaten with a shut down.”

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