Pensions: Congress should fix problem it helped create

Members of Congress who worry that bailing out the troubled miners’ pension fund will set a bad precedent should consider the reason help is needed: Washington.

Retirement benefits for about 120,000 miners and their families are in jeopardy because of the method used to fund them. For decades it was a reliable source of money because it involved contributions from mining companies, based on the amount of coal they produced. Now, with coal production plummeting, the pension system is running out of cash.

As residents of coal states such as West Virginia and Ohio understand, much of the blame for decreased production goes to federal rules aimed at slashing use of coal to generate electricity.

Members of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee have already voted in support of a bill to aid the miners’ pension program. It is not known when it will come up for a vote by the full Senate.

But some lawmakers, including a few from coal states, have concerns about such action. They question whether Washington should bail out a private-sector retirement system.

Sens. Shelley Capito, R-W.Va.; Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; Rob Portman, R-Ohio; and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, back the bailout. They point out it should be a bipartisan effort, for a very good reason. They recognize that while the miners’ pension program is a private-sector problem, it is one caused by federal government action. Other lawmakers should take that into account and vote for the measure.

It is a simple concept, really: What Washington breaks, it should repair.