(BigGovernment.news) Out of touch, tone-deaf, and dismissive are some of the best ways to describe why the House and Senate would pass a $73 billion “debt restructuring bill” (otherwise known as a bailout) for Puerto Rico but won’t even consider legislation that would earmark money that is just sitting around to relieve an ailing pension fund for retired U.S. coal miners. Frankly, members of Congress from both parties (including the leadership) should lose their jobs over this.
As reported by AMI Newswire, a measure to rescue Puerto Rico from a $73 billion debt crisis finally passed Congress late Wednesday, as senators scampered out of town for a five-day recess, but only after overcoming a twist of opposition from lawmakers who wanted to protect pensions for coal miners.
The legislation to rescue the island passed the Senate on a 68-30 vote Wednesday night, after already clearing passage in the House. It is expected to be signed immediately by President Obama before the territory goes into a $2 billion debt default.
The Obama administration had gone into overdrive to lobby senators to vote for the bill, dispatching Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to arm-twisting duty on Capitol Hill.
The legislation protects the commonwealth of Puerto Rico from lawsuits while it renegotiates its debt and restructures payments. Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday said “failure is not an option,” and pronounced the finished product as “the best and possibly the only action we can take to help Puerto Rico.” That’s odd for the Senate majority leader to say something like that, since he’s been a failed leader pretty much since he stepped into his current role.
The bill only passed after overcoming an objection from coal-state senators who were concerned about pension protections for coal miners. Those senators – Republicans Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Democrats Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Joe Manchin of West Virginia – had raised the pension issue with McConnell, of Kentucky.
At issue is the so-called Miner Protection Act, which Senate Democrats unveiled in March in the Finance Committee. That act would protect the pensions of approximately 100,000 retired miners who will see their benefit funds run dry at the end of December.
The bill would prevent cuts by using $3.5 billion in unused federal funds in the Abandoned Mine Land program, a trust built from taxes paid by coal companies to reclaim old and abandoned strip mines. In May, Democrats took the rare tactic of issuing an open letter to McConnell to insist on the legislation, and vowed to attach it to any must-pass legislation that came to the Senate floor.
McConnell himself told AMI Newswire he did not oppose the legislation, but wanted it to clear the Finance Committee first. “I think we need to deal with that issue and the way to deal with it is through an open and transparent process,” he said at that time.
Note to McConnell: There are probably fans of yours out there who believe that, but those of us who are familiar with bait-and-switch legislative tactics aren’t buying your excuse. You wanted to bailout Puerto Rico and now you have.
That said, the larger issue being pushed by Democrats is saving the Central States Pension Fund (CSPF), a 61-year-old mega-fund which manages $2.8 billion in annual benefit payments but was hit hard by the 2008 recession. The U.S. Treasury Department in May rejected a “rescue plan” application it received last September by CSPF administrators, that would have cut benefits for 270,000 retirees in the U.S. to maintain solvency, with some retirees seeing cuts of up to 70 percent.
Although the application was rejected, the Central States fund remains financially unstable, and Democrats have said up to $30 billion in aid may eventually be needed.
In the end, because Wednesday night’s vote came just hours before Puerto Rico was scheduled to default, the Senate could not amend the bill as it was passed by the House, which meant the pension protections weren’t included. That prompted Brown, Capito and Portman to vote against the bill. Manchin did not vote, although a spokeswoman told AMI Newswire he would have opposed it.
There is no better example of just how divergent the political agendas of Congress and the American people are than this. We’d say “shame on you, Congress, for neglecting American citizens in favor of others,” but to be shamed you’d have to have a conscience – and a soul – first.
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