McConnell rudely rebuffs Kentucky coal miners with incurable black lung disease

McConnell rebuffs coal miners
Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell (R). Screen capture by Wochit Politics via YouTube

When you consider how rudely Mitch McConnell treated Jon Stewart who was doing his best to help 9/11 responders, is it really any surprise that he was also brazenly rude to a group of Kentucky coal miners? All of the 120 coal miners in this group suffer from incurable black lung disease and they made the long trip by bus to Washington, D.C., accompanied by their families, Alternet reports.

The miners hoped to meet with the Kentucky Republican senator to push him to take action to provide funding for the federal Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. The fund is absolutely crucial for at least 12,000 former coal miners across the country. The miners wanted to discuss restoring a higher excise tax on coal companies to help pay for their medical care but McConnell offered no comment on that, Reuters reports. Instead, he merely said their benefits would be safe. He delivered a brief statement, then turned around and left.

“We rode up here ten hours by bus to get some answers from him because he represents our state,” George Massey, a miner from Harlan County, Kentucky told a local paper. “For him to just come in for two minutes was a low-down shame.”

In previous years coal companies were “required to pay a $1.10 per ton tax on underground coal to finance the federal Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, which supports disabled miners whose employers go bankrupt and can no longer pay out medical benefits. But the amount reverted to the 1977 level of 55 cents [in January] after Congress declined to take action to maintain the rate.”

And Reuters reports the coal industry did whatever it could to make sure the tax level dropped, even though a government report found that the fund was in “dire financial straits.”

Kenny Fleming, a former miner from Pike County, said McConnell told the group “they would be taken care of” but offered no concrete assurances. For the miners, the big worry here is that the fund could soon be insolvent because of congressional inaction.

One miner seemed already quite aware that McConnell might not be up to much, perhaps having seen how he has acted in the past.

“He might’ve stayed a minute,” said Jimmy Moore, who heads the Letcher County Black Lung Association after McConnell’s rapid departure on Tuesday. “It was a worthless trip, that’s the way I feel.”

Fortunately, the meeting was not all for naught. The miners were able to meet with Democratic Senators Bob Casey (Pennsylvania), Joe Manchin (West Virginia), Tim Kaine (Virginia), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), and Democratic congresswoman Bobby Scott (Virginia). Each has supported black lung bills that would protect and strengthen their benefits.

And according to the Government Accountability Office, without an extension of previous tax levels, the fund’s debts will rise from $5 billion to $15 billion in 2050. A burden that will likely have to be paid for by U.S. taxpayers instead of coal companies. Since there’s a resurgence of black lung disease and coal companies are going bankrupt, this means there’s a greater chance that the fund will become insolvent, the accountability office reports.

Which means McConnell’s words have something of a hollow ring to them.

Featured image courtesy of the video above