Black Lung: Manchin should use border vote to secure measure

While many Americans are thinking of exchanging gifts they received for Christmas, another kind of give-and-take is occurring in Washington. It could determine whether the new year is a good one for thousands of West Virginians and Ohioan who suffer from black lung disease.

Some federal agencies are shut down this week, though essential services such as defense and distribution of Social Security payments continues. So does mail delivery.

Still, some government functions have been interrupted and tens of thousands of federal employees are spending the week at home, without paychecks.

At fault is a dispute about President Donald Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to continue work on a wall along our southern border with Mexico. Funding has been approved by the House of Representatives, but rejected by the U.S. Senate. During the past few days, traditional politics has kicked in. That is, the White House has backed off a bit from insisting on the full $5 billion and some senators who voted against the $5 billion are signaling what it would take for them to change.

Among them is Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

Manchin pointed out he has been consistent in supporting Trump’s requests for money to curb illegal immigration. But in this case, he voted against a bill providing the $5.7 billion because of something it did not include.

A program that helps victims of black lung disease — a malady that is making a comeback in Appalachian coal mines — faces insolvency in the future. Additional action to keep money flowing into the trust fund from production of coal is needed. Congress has not approved such action. That is why he voted against the border wall funding bill, Manchin said. He explained “a bill that funds border security but devastates our brave mining families is a bad bill, and there is no reason we can’t have both – border security and keeping our promise to miners.”

No, there is not.

A bit of “horse trading” — including the black lung provision in the border wall funding bill — could secure Manchin’s vote. That would be one step toward ending the shutdown.

Manchin is right. That step should be taken.

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