The House Rules Committee yesterday cleared a controversial black lung bill for floor action after receiving assurances from House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Carl Perkins (D-Ky.) that he would allow the bill to be revised on the floor.
Perkins assured the committee members that Democrats on his committee would write a substitute bill which would knock out an automatic entitlement to black lung benefits. Under the bill as now written, any miner who has worked in a mine for 30 years would receive black lung disease disability payments automatically without any proof that he had contracted the disease.
Black lung is contracted by breathing coal, dust for long periods.
The Rules Committee had held up the bill on the grounds that this was a pension, and not a disability program. Perkins argued before the Rules Committee yesterday it would apply only to a few older miners, 50 per cent of whom were not entitled to union pensions for one reason or another.
But Rules Committee members argued that other victims of occupational diseases could then demand the same treatment and it could start an expensive precedent.
Perkins also agreed to knock out of the bill a provision which prevented the government from reviewing or appealing any claim once it was granted. He admitted his support for both provisions was "gruding" and said he still might fight them on the floor but assured the Rules Committee they would be offered.
Meanwhile, the Senate amended its version of a black lung bill similar to the House bill except that only survivors of miners who worked 25 years in the mine would automatically receive black lung benefits.
The Senate did not pass the bill however, since it has tax provisions and the House must act first on any tax bill. The bill would set up a trust fund into which mine operators would pay as a means of shifting some of the cost of the black program from the Treasury to the private coal companies.