When you try to pack too much into an already busy time, some things inevitably fall through the cracks. If you're in Congress and you've just rushed to push through massive tax reform, it might mean that millions of American kids will lose their health insurance come January. It's looking increasingly certain that there will not be a vote on CHIP until 2018, the Children's Health Insurance Program that provides coverage for 9 million American children.
This basically boils down to what each party wants to include in its emergency spending bill that Congress is set to vote on this Friday. While Democrats have been pressuring their GOP counterparts to include funding for CHIP in the bill, Republicans have indicated that they want to wait until next year. And according to The New York Times, both parties are blaming each other for not being able to agree on funding CHIP.
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) told parents on Tuesday that some of his colleagues were "obsessed" about passing the tax bill, according to the Times.
They think it's the most important thing in the world. But, my God, if you can spend months and weeks making sure that the corporate tax rate is just where it needs to be, so that you can satisfy corporate leaders, if you can tinker with that, and have tax breaks for the superrich, if you can work that hard, why is it so hard to get a bipartisan children's health insurance bill done?
CHIP has essentially been running on fumes — specifically, on limited state funding — since October, when Congress failed to renew it in September. The program has the rare support of both parties, yet discussions to renew it got lost first in the push to repeal Obamacare, and most recently as lawmakers tussled over the tax reform bill. Now, months later, state CHIP programs are running out of money, threatening to cut millions of kids off of the coverage that is, in some cases, literally keeping them alive. If Congress doesn't add funding for CHIP to the emergency spending bill that needs to pass by Friday at midnight in order to avoid a government shutdown, multiple states will simply have to shut down their programs.
Currently, House Republicans are attempting to fund CHIP in the stopgap funding bill by taking money away from Medicare and the Affordable Care Act, which Democrats are not thrilled about. This could be one of the elements that leads to a government shutdown, because Senate Republicans need at least nine Democrats on board in order to pass the funding bill. Some senators have vowed have vowed to vote against any version of the spending bill that doesn't include CHIP funding. Republicans only need 60 votes to pass a bill, though, so there's a good chance that they'll be able to get enough Democratic senators on their side to avoid a shutdown.
This wouldn't have been a problem, however, if Congress had just worked on renewing CHIP earlier. Instead, they chose to focus on other priorities: first, on the Graham-Cassidy proposal to repeal Obamacare back in September, then the tax reform bill, which will give the country's richest citizens a massive tax cut while adding $1.4 trillion to the federal deficit.
House Republicans are already claiming that they need to cut other health care programs in order to pay for CHIP, but Sen. Casey has pointed out that that CHIP would only cost $8 billion over 10 years — a drop in the bucket compared to the $1.4 trillion that Congressional Republicans felt comfortable adding to the deficit with the tax reform.
Both Republicans and Democrats claim to support CHIP, but negotiations have stalled. Meanwhile, children across the country are in serious risk of losing their health care — and for the 9 million children who rely on its funding to receive necessary care, their lives are at stake.