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Health program for 9 million kids falls victim to partisan squabbling

Everyone in Congress claims to be a champion of children’s health.

But funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program ran out Sept. 30. And some lawmakers worry it might not be replenished until early next year.

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It’s a mess that can happen only in Washington: Even a bipartisan program that covers 9 million poor and middle-class children is caught up in partisan squabbling, with Republicans and Democrats split over how to pay for renewed funding and placing blame on the other party.

But with unified GOP control of the government, voters and the program’s enrollees — who are beginning to get notices that money could be running out — could hold Republicans responsible if the program remains in limbo.

The nearly three-month funding lapse has raised the profile of a program that’s spent most of the year in the shadows of Republican efforts to overhaul the tax code and fund the government. Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel this week called for CHIP funding while holding his young son, who just went through heart surgery. So did Alabama’s Sen.-elect Doug Jones, who used his victory speech Tuesday night to urge lawmakers to address CHIP before he is seated in Washington.

A POLITICO-Harvard poll shows CHIP is now the top priority for Democratic voters — and a separate Morning Consult/POLITICO poll found 67 percent of the public would “definitely” or “maybe” support shutting down the government, if that’s what it takes to get CHIP funded.

So far, Democrats in the Senate say they’re not yet ready to issue such a threat. But they’re trying to make the nearly three-month shortfall a referendum on Republican priorities and the GOP’s ability to govern while making clear that CHIP has become their top priority, superseding others such as getting a deal on undocumented immigrants, known as DREAMers, before the end of the year. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) says that if Republicans control both houses of Congress and the administration, they carry responsibility.

“I don’t want to hear talk about what happened in the past and how bipartisan the Children’s Health Insurance Program has been. That’s nice talk,” Casey said. “Unless this gets done, all of the work that they claim to have done over many years doesn’t mean very much.”

Senate Republican sources maintain funding will be addressed by the end of the year, likely in a government spending bill that would need to be approved by Dec. 22. Republicans and Democrats are holding closed-door negotiations on ways to pay for the program.

“We’re going to take good care of CHIP,” said Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who with the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy helped write the law that created the program in 1997. “I can’t tell you exactly when, but we’ll get it done.”

Hatch, like almost any other lawmaker questioned about the program by POLITICO this week, insists that if he had his way, the funding would have never lapsed on Sept. 30.

But further underscoring the irony is that the parties agree on the policy to renew funding for CHIP. Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate have agreed to fund the program for five years. It is the ways to pay for it that are divisive.

So far, no state has had to kick a child off its CHIP rolls because of the funding shortfall. The Trump administration has sent emergency funding to several states to bridge the gaps, and lawmakers earlier this month gave the administration additional authority to do so.

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But states and advocates for children’s health care are increasingly concerned that the partisan bickering will have real implications.

House Republicans on Wednesday released a spending bill that would fund CHIP for five years but pay for it with cuts to Obamacare and other programs that Senate Democrats would not support. The bill would need Democrats’ help to get through the Senate.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), whose committee wrote the House bill, said he’s concerned CHIP won’t be funded this month.

“I’m strongly advocating that it should be on the CR. I think that’s where it belongs,” Walden said. “We should stop the monkey business around here that keeps it from being funded for five years and get it off the place. Should have done it back in September.”

Like Democrats, he blames the other party for the delay.

“Every chance the Democrats wanted to slow and stop the process of negotiations, we did that in good faith,” he said. “Both sides wanted to find common ground. We couldn’t achieve it.”

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Source: POLITICO – TOP Stories

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