• FILE -In this Dec. 17, 2014 file photo, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. An election-year bill that would protect health-care and pension benefits for more than 100,000 retired coal miners is dividing coal-state Republicans. Thousands of miners are expected to gather at the Capitol to push for the measure, which they describe as life-saving and fulfilling a promise the government made in 1946.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

    FILE -In this Dec. 17, 2014 file photo, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. An election-year bill that would protect health-care and pension benefits for more than 100,000 retired coal miners is dividing coal-state ... Republicans. Thousands of miners are expected to gather at the Capitol to push for the measure, which they describe as life-saving and fulfilling a promise the government made in 1946. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - In this March 10, 2006 file photo, Ohio coal miners head into the mine for a shift inside the Hopedale Mine near Cadiz, Ohio. An election-year bill that would protect health-care and pension benefits for more than 100,000 retired coal miners is dividing coal-state Republicans. Thousands of miners are expected to gather at the Capitol to push for the measure, which they describe as life-saving and fulfilling a promise the government made in 1946.  (AP Photo/Joe Maiorana, File)

    FILE - In this March 10, 2006 file photo, Ohio coal miners head into the mine for a shift inside the Hopedale Mine near Cadiz, Ohio. An election-year bill that would protect health-care and pension benefits for more than 100,000 retired coal miners ... is dividing coal-state Republicans. Thousands of miners are expected to gather at the Capitol to push for the measure, which they describe as life-saving and fulfilling a promise the government made in 1946. (AP Photo/Joe Maiorana, File) (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - In this June 23, 2016 file photo, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. An election-year bill that would protect health-care and pension benefits for more than 100,000 retired coal miners is dividing coal-state Republicans. Thousands of miners are expected to gather at the Capitol to push for the measure, which they describe as life-saving and fulfilling a promise the government made in 1946.  (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

    FILE - In this June 23, 2016 file photo, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. An election-year bill that would protect health-care and pension benefits for more than 100,000 retired coal miners is dividing ... coal-state Republicans. Thousands of miners are expected to gather at the Capitol to push for the measure, which they describe as life-saving and fulfilling a promise the government made in 1946. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File) (The Associated Press)

Bill to shield retired miners divides coal-state Republicans

Markets Associated Press

An election-year bill to fulfill a 70-year-old government promise and protect health-care and pension benefits for retired miners is dividing coal-state Republicans.

Continue Reading Below

The legislation pits endangered incumbents against GOP leaders wary of bailing out union workers.

Retirement and health-care funds currently support about 120,000 former miners and their families nationwide. But account balances have dwindled amid continued layoffs and bankruptcy filings as the coal industry struggles against competition from cheaper natural gas and tightening environmental regulations.

The bill would ensure that retired miners receive hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits now at risk amid the industry's steep decline.

Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Mark Kirk of Illinois back the legislation, but face resistance from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and other GOP lawmakers.