Senate Approves Coal Miner Pension, Health Care Benefits

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WASHINGTON (AP) – An election-year bill to protect health care and pension benefits for about 120,000 retired coal miners and their families has moved forward in the Senate.

The Senate Finance Committee approved the measure Wednesday, 18-8.

Six Republicans, including Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah, joined all 12 Democrats in endorsing the bill. Supporters say it would save lives and honor a 70-year-old promise made by the federal government.

The measure has divided coal-state Republicans. Several endangered Republican incumbents support the bill, but GOP leaders – including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky – are wary of bailing out unionized workers.

The bill would ensure retired miners receive more than $250 million a year in benefits now at risk amid the coal industry’s steep decline and bankruptcies of several large companies.