Congressional plan for coal miner health care bailout begs question: Who’s next?

Republican members of Congress face a dilemma, particularly those from coal-mining states.
As Congress considers a $1.3 billion bailout of health benefits for retired union coal miners, they must weigh the arguments for and against such federal bailouts.
 
“My district has more United Mine Workers members than any other Congressional district in the nation,”Congressman Mike Bost, R-Ill., said. “West Virginia has a total of 8,000. Kentucky has a total of 3,000. And I have a total of about 4,500 in my district. It’s a lot of people.”
But Bost also served 10 years in the Illinois General Assembly, and knows that Illinois’ pension systems are more than $130 billion in debt.
Bost said he understands why some taxpayers are worried that a federal bailout for the United Mine Workers’ health care benefits could open the door to a federal bailout for public pension systems across the country.
“There is a danger in bailouts,” Bost said. “But this one is different.”
Congress is considering a $1.3 billion bailout of health benefits for 22,600 former coal miners. The bailout is included in the $1 trillion spending plan designed to keep the federal government running. Bost said Congress is looking to use money from the coal mine reclamation fund to pay for the health care bills of what he calls a “finite group” of elderly people. Bost said this week that he’s pleased Congress has reached an agreement on what he calls “vitally” important benefits.
“The coal companies used a loophole to abandon these people,” Bost said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Rachel Greszler, a research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, disagrees, saying taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for what the union promised its members but never delivered.
“There was never a promise from the [federal] government,” Greszler said. “It was the union itself. They set up this fund and wanted to pay out benefits

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