Coal Mining Union Asks Sen. Manchin to Support Biden’s $2T Build Back Better

Coal Mining Union Asks Sen. Manchin to Support Biden's $2T Build Back Better joe manchin speaks during a senate committee hearing Sen. Joe Manchin, R-W.Va. (Alex Brandon/AP)

By Charles Kim | Tuesday, 21 December 2021 04:41 PM

President Joe Biden is getting unlikely help to try and sway Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., into supporting his $2 trillion Build Back Better legislation by way of a West Virginia coal mining union.

"The United Mine Workers [of America] and Sen. Joe Manchin have a long and friendly relationship," union President Cecil Roberts wrote in a statement Monday. "We remain grateful for his hard work to preserve the pensions and healthcare of our retirees across the nation, including thousands in West Virginia. He has been at our side as we have worked to preserve coal miners' jobs in a changing energy marketplace, and we appreciate that very much.

"The Build Back Better legislation includes several items that we believe are important for our members and their communities – some of which are part of the UMWA's Principles for Energy Transition we laid out last spring. The bill includes language that would extend the current fee paid by coal companies to fund benefits received by victims of coal workers' pneumoconiosis, or Black Lung. But now that fee will be cut in half, further shifting the burden of paying these benefits away from the coal companies and on to taxpayers."

The statement went on to say the legislation would put "thousands" of unemployed coal miners to work building facilities through tax incentives for manufacturing companies, which would also employ the former miners.

The union said the bill would also "outlaw" mining firms that do not allow unions with financial penalties.

"For those and other reasons, we are disappointed that the bill will not pass," Roberts' statement said. "We urge Sen. Manchin to revisit his opposition to this legislation and work with his colleagues to pass something that will help keep coal miners working, and have a meaningful impact on our members, their families, and their communities."

Manchin, the lone Democrat in the Senate to oppose the massive social spending plan, announced Sunday there was "no way" he could vote for Biden's signature legislation.

"For 5½ months, I have worked as diligently as possible meeting with President Biden, Majority Leader [Chuck] Schumer, D-N.Y., [House] Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi, D-Calif., and my colleagues on every end of the political spectrum to determine the best path forward despite my serious reservations," Manchin wrote in a statement. "I have made my concerns clear through public statements, op-eds and private conversations. My concerns have only increased as the pandemic surges on, inflation rises, and geopolitical uncertainty increases around the world. I have always said, 'If I can't go back home and explain it, I can't vote for it.'

"Despite my best efforts, I cannot explain the sweeping Build Back Better Act in West Virginia and I cannot vote to move forward on this mammoth piece of legislation."

Manchin's opposition all but kills the bill in the evenly divided 50-50 Senate which requires all 48 Democrats and two independents to support the legislation so Vice President Kamala Harris can cast the tiebreaking vote to move it forward.

Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have been critical of the legislation, which was introduced at a cost of $3.5 trillion and included free college tuition, free universal childcare, climate change initiatives, and other mainly progressive policies.

The two Democrat Senators were able to get the bill trimmed down to between $1.75-$2 trillion, which was passed by the House earlier this year, and now must pass the upper chamber.

"The American people deserve transparency on the true cost of the Build Back Better Act," Manchin's statement added. "The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office determined the cost is upwards of $4.5 trillion, which is more than double what the bill's ardent supporters have claimed. They continue to camouflage the real cost of the intent behind this bill.

"As the omicron variant spreads throughout communities across the country, we are seeing COVID-19 cases rise at rates we have not seen since the height of this pandemic. We are also facing increasing geopolitical uncertainty as tensions rise with both Russia and China. Our ability to quickly, and effectively, respond to these pending threats would be drastically hindered by our rising debt."