Retired Kentucky miners return to Capitol Hill to fight for benefits

Published: Mar. 22, 2017 at 11:09 PM EDT

“He’d be here with me if he could. He said rather die doing this than dying sitting at home because he knows how important it is," Johnny Smith from Morganfield. Kentucky said.

Johnny Smith’s brother became disabled from working in Kentucky mines. Now he’s on Capitol Hill fighting for health care for his brother and thousands of other retired miners before it runs out.

“Just to get this bill passed, it means everything to him," Smith added.

Smith and other Kentucky miners met with their local representatives Wednesday, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“Ask him specifically if this would be put on the floor for a vote and he said it would be," Eddy Embry from Hartford, KY said.

The bill McConnell has introduced in the Senate would provide a permanent extension of health care benefits. But some lawmakers are angry the bill doesn’t address the pension issue.

“If all they’re going to do is the healthcare part of it right now that means to tell you they don’t want to do the pensions whatsoever," Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said.

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin introduced a bill to address both pensions and health care, but McConnell never brought it to the Senate floor for a vote. McConnell said the pension issue is much broader and he wants to take care of healthcare first.

“If you’re going to do it fix it, fix the whole thing, because we’re going to have to come back in 6-9 months and have the same crisis with the pensions," Manchin added.

Smith just wants to see something get done and something done soon. The money runs out in April.

“Lives depends on it," Smith said.

A spokesperson for Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said, “he supports funding coal miners’ pensions. But the ultimate legislation should be inclusive of all miners, union and non–union, and also address the ultimate cause of the collapse of coal pensions, government overregulation of the coal industry.”