Elizabeth Warren

Remarks Concerning Coal Miners - Dec. 10, 2016

Elizabeth Warren
December 10, 2016— Washington, D.C.
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Mr. President, I come to the floor today to support senators from both parties -- I’m sorry. Are we in a quorum?

Thank you. Mr. President, I come to the floor today to support senators from both parties, and in particular West Virginia senators Joe Manchin and Shelly Capito in their fight to protect health and retirement benefits for over 100,000 American coal miners and their families.

70 years ago, the federal government made a simple promise to these union coal miners. America, our country, promised to provide health insurance and retirement benefits to miners who went down in those mines and put their lives at risk to power this great nation. We recognized that this was dangerous work, but we believed it was essential to our economic growth and our national security of our country. And because of that belief, we promised that if these men would go down into the mines, our country would make sure that they had some protection in case of injury, disability or death. We promised that after a lifetime of back-breaking work, they would have a dignified and secure retirement, and we promised that if the worst happened, that their wives, their widows and their families would still be provided for.

When the American government made this deal with the United Mine Workers of America 70 years ago, coal generated more than 50% of our power. Today coal generates only about 30% of our power. Coal prices plummeted and other sources of energy like natural gas have become more prevalent. Automation has also transformed this industry and there are critical environmental reasons to transition. But make no mistake, these changes have drastically altered the coal industry and have left thousands of coal miners out of work.

Every month there are more reports of coal companies filing for bankruptcy, and the layoffs, they're never far behind. More than 25,000 miners have lost their jobs in the last five years alone. As a country, we all benefited from the decades of work put in by coal miners. Every member of Congress and everybody we represent back home, we benefited from the work of the coal miners, and we made a deal to keep these men in the mines. And now we must honor the commitments we made.

Congress is on the verge of turning out the lights and going home for the rest of the year, but 100,000 coal miners face a reckoning. If congress does not act, more than 16,000 mine workers will lose their health insurance by the end of this month. Another 2,500 coal miners will lose their coverage by March. By July, another 4,000 miners will be without insurance. And on and on and on. This is not right. Losing health insurance is tough for anyone, but for coal miners it is a killer, literally. Coal miners face far higher rates of cardio pulmonary disease, cancer, black lung and other injuries than most other Americans. They need their insurance.

Our coal miners knew what they were getting into. They knew they were taking on work that was dangerous and risky to their health, and that is why they fought so hard for guaranteed health coverage, and that is why they gave up a portion of their paycheck every month, month after month, year after year to pay for it. And it's not just health coverage. About 90,000 miners and their families will also soon lose their guaranteed monthly pension benefits. These benefits aren't some Cadillac deal. The average monthly benefit for these mine workers is about $586, about $7,000 per year for their retirement.

That may not sound like much, and let's be honest, it isn't much. But for thousands and thousands of retired miners and their families, Social Security and these $586 payments are all they've got to show for a lifetime of going into those mines. We cannot back out on our promises. There is bipartisan legislation written and ready to go to fix this problem. It would not add a dime to the deficit. We could pass it right now today.

The senators who serve here come from every corner of the country. We don't agree on everything, and I certainly don't agree on every issue with Senator Manchin or Senator Capito, but I don't understand how anyone can disagree with this.

A lot has changed in seventy years, but the fact that America makes good on its promises to American workers is one thing that should never change. And we should not leave here until this congress makes good on America’s 70-year-old promise to our miners.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

Speech from https://www.c-span.org/video/?419857-1/us-senate-approves-continuing-resolution-6336.