Children’s Health Insurance Left Dangling Ahead Of Funding Showdown

Bill Clark/CQPHO

Republicans and Democrats must join hands on a budget of some sort by midnight on Friday to avoid a government shutdown, and lawmakers are scrambling to resolve disputes on a host of issues from abortion rights to natural disaster aid to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Since Congress allowed funding for CHIP to lapse at the end of September, states have been living on borrowed time—demanding emergency stopgap funding from D.C., tapping into their own reserves, and sending out notices to families warning them that their children’s health coverage may soon disappear.

Both the House and Senate have promised to attach a CHIP reauthorization to the continuing resolution up for a vote later this week, but negotiations are continuing behind closed doors on what exact form it will take. Senate Democrats are threatening to oppose House Republicans’ version that cuts public health programs to pay for CHIP, noting that they aren’t demanding similar offsets for either the $1.4 trillion tax bill or $81 billion disaster aid bill up for votes this week.

“The pay-fors there are just a partisan ploy,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) told TPM on Monday. “We had the Finance Committee staff run the numbers. For the $1.5 trillion dollars that they’re borrowing to pay for their tax cut, you could pay for 915 years of CHIP.”

Who will blink and when could determine the future of the program.

The office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would not confirm which version of CHIP would come up for a vote, saying only that both parties are “working on it.” A GOP Senate aide with knowledge of the negotiations added that the preference of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the chair of the Finance Committee hammering out the CHIP bill, “would be the five-year funding extension, which passed by a voice vote out of the Finance Committee in early October.” That version did not include the cuts to Obamacare’s public health and prevention fund that characterize the House version.

Asked by TPM if he would rule out Democrats supporting the House CHIP bill, Wyden declined to answer directly.

“We have millions of families in this country walking an economic tightrope, trying to balance their food bills, their fuel bills, their rent, and we’re seeing a lot of hardship already with this delay on CHIP,” he said.

When TPM pressed him on what he would choose between the House CHIP bill or nothing, he again pivoted to calling the Republican proposal a “partisan ploy.”

Meanwhile, the situation for millions of low-income families is becoming dire. This week, as more states sent out notices warning of CHIP lapsing, Alabama became the first state to actually freeze enrollment in its CHIP program—not allowing any more families eligible for the program to enroll, and notifying current enrollees that they will be dropped after Feb. 1 if Congress does not act.

Yet some lawmakers caught in the end-of-the-year crunch are not feeling the urgency.

Asked by TPM if CHIP needs to be on this week’s continuing resolution, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) paused before answering “not necessarily.”

“Nobody knows for sure what is going to happen with CHIP,” he said, turning away from a gaggle of reporters.

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