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Coal State Lawmakers Seek to Link Puerto Rico to Miner Pensions

Effort throws a wrench into the vote-counting on Puerto Rico crisis bill

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown is among the senators withholding support for a Puerto Rico aid package over mine worker pensions. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown is among the senators withholding support for a Puerto Rico aid package over mine worker pensions. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senators from coal-mining states are threatening to hold up an urgent aid package for Puerto Rico, in a bid to get a vote on a mine worker pension bill.  

Leaving a meeting with Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown said he was inclined to vote against a Wednesday procedural vote to limit debate on the Puerto Rico legislation unless he had a commitment for a floor vote on a mine worker pension bill.  

The Ohio Democrat said he thought a bipartisan group of coal state senators shared his view.  

“I don’t want to slow the Puerto Rican bill. It should go up-or-down on its merits, but I just want to make sure the mine workers are protected. And this is a vehicle that we hope that Sen. [Mitch] McConnell will give us a commitment on,” Brown said.  

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He anticipated that GOP senators involved in the mine worker pension bill would be pushing McConnell, the majority leader and himself a Republican from the coal state of Kentucky, for assurances about getting a vote on the mine worker measure in the near future.  

“I don’t expect it to be on this bill. It probably shouldn’t be on this bill,” Brown said. “I just want a commitment of a date.”  

Ohio GOP Sen. Rob Portman, and West Virginia Sens. Joe Manchin III and Shelley Moore Capito had joined Brown in a colloquy on the Senate floor about the miners’ pension fund. Each said they would not vote for cloture on Puerto Rico without voting on the pension bill.  

“I intend not to vote to move forward with the Puerto Rico bill unless we get our vote, and it’s appropriate,” Portman said. “If we’re going to help Puerto Rico escape bankruptcy, then we should also help the 90,000 miners we talked about in West Virginia, Ohio, and other states who are suffering the effects of these coal bankruptcies. They don’t deserve to be left behind as the Senate addresses other bankruptcies.”  

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A spokeswoman for Capito said that in addition to speaking on the Senate floor, the West Virginia Republican was working behind the scenes to try to get a vote scheduled, including through conversations with McConnell.  

The vote on the legislation to address Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis has been lined up for a vote to break a potential filibuster Wednesday, with Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson telling reporters after the Lew meeting that, “we will win the vote tomorrow.”  

Nelson supports advancing the Puerto Rico measure, as does the Obama administration. Lew was meeting with Democratic members of the Senate Finance Committee to respond to questions about the bipartisan package Tuesday.  

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McConnell told reporters that when it comes to the Puerto Rico matter, “we do not have time for amendments. This has been negotiated fully.”  

McConnell said he was optimistic the Obama administration would be able to corral the needed votes on the Democratic side. Lew warned the Senate in a letter on Monday that there’s a real July 1 deadline for debt payments.

Separately, Sen. Robert Menendez took the floor Tuesday afternoon and began what is becoming a very long speech to protest the decision to preclude the offering of amendments on the Puerto Rico bill.

When Oklahoma GOP Sen. James M. Inhofe sought recognition at around 4:30 p.m., the New Jersey Democrat said he would be speaking for several more hours.

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“I feel compelled to try to convince my colleagues in the face that there is no amendment process allowed to vote against cloture, create an opportunity, a pathway towards amendments, and have up-or-down votes on them, hopefully improve the legislation, and then be able to move forward,” Menendez said.

The vote on limiting debate on the underlying measure will take place Wednesday under Senate rules, regardless of the duration of the Menendez speech.

Jeremy Dillon contributed to this report.

Contact Lesniewski at NielsLesniewski@cqrollcall.com and follow him on Twitter @nielslesniewski
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