Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., promised Wednesday to block all Senate legislation until he is assured that bipartisan legislation he is co-sponsoring to shore up a nearly insolvent miners pension fund will be part of a must-pass spending package this year.
Mr. Manchin is a swing voter and often votes with Republicans when they need a filibuster-proof majority.
"My bill is the only bill that fixes this problem and has bipartisan support in the House and the Senate," Mr. Manchin said on the Senate floor. "I know that if Congress passed my bill, the Bipartisan American Miners Act, President Trump would sign it. We have to have a fix for these coal miners, and I will do whatever I can to keep the promise to those who have sacrificed so much for us."
The legislation was co-introduced by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and is co-sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Democratic Sens. Doug Jones of Alabama, Tim Kaine and Mark R. Warner of Virginia, Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
The proposed Bipartisan American Miners Act of 2019 would transfer funds from the Interior Department's Abandoned Mine Land fund to help cover the pension benefit obligations of the United Mine Workers of America 1974 Pension Plan, Washington, and some health-care benefits.
The $3.1 billion United Mine Workers plan has at least $3 billion in unfunded liabilities and is projected to be insolvent by 2022.
Also on Wednesday, experts from the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. briefed members of the Senate Finance Committee on the financial health of multiemployer pension plans.
The briefing "affirms the concerns we've all had about the health of some multiemployer pension plans," Senate Finance committee members said in a statement, with more than 100 multiemployer pension funds expected to become insolvent in the next 10 to 20 years. "It's a financial crisis stemming from economic shocks, declining membership in some plans, and the so-called orphan liabilities left by employers who withdrew from plans without paying their full share of the liabilities," adding that they take the issue very seriously and are working to find a bipartisan solution.