Congress Government Shutdown

Health Subcommittee Chairman Michael C. Burgess, R-Texas, joined at left by Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Ga., speaks Thursday about funding for the CHIP program as the House Rules Committee meets to work on a government funding bill, on Capitol Hill, in Washington.

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

Last week, Congress and President Donald Trump enacted permanent income tax cuts for corporations and other businesses. Then they belatedly gave the Children’s Health Insurance Program an extension that could run out in a matter of weeks.

In fiscal 2017, which ended Sept. 30, the federal government spent $16 billion to provide health coverage at low cost or no cost to the families of 9 million American children. Before leaving Washington, D.C., Thursday for their Christmas vacation, lawmakers approved a stopgap funding bill that includes $2.9 billion for CHIP. Some members of Congress said that will fund the children’s health program until March, but others on both sides of the aisle cautioned that the money will run out sooner.

Congress has known for more than two years that CHIP funding would end on Sept. 30, 2017, if the House and Senate failed to reauthorize it. Republicans and Democrats agree that it should be renewed for five years. However, the parties’ leaders disagree on how to pay for it.

There was no such “pay for” requirement on the massive tax cut bill, which is projected to add at least $1 trillion to the national debt over the next decade. In other words, the majority in Congress agreed to borrow $1 trillion to cover the tax cut, but it hasn’t reached a compromise on funding $16 billion this year for children’s care.

In Montana, 24,000 children rely on CHIP. Over the past 20 years, federal CHIP funding has allowed Montana children in low income families to have health coverage, even when their parents couldn’t afford insurance for themselves.

Gov. Steve Bullock joined Republican and Democratic governors from other states in pleading for CHIP renewal. Fourteen states were expected to start cutting children out of their programs in January, if Congress failed to appropriate more money. Montana was projected to run out of CHIP funds as early as February.

Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, issued a joint statement Friday, promising to seek a five-year extension soon.

“We will be vigilant to ensure this program isn’t subject to repeated short-term fixes and constantly looming deadlines — families across the nation deserve better,” Wyden and Hatch said. And yet CHIP has less than two months of funding when we are already three months into the fiscal year.

Among the funding sources proposed for CHIP is elimination of public health programs and higher costs for some Medicare beneficiaries.

A group of eight children’s advocacy organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, March of Dimes and National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, said in a news release: “Right now, the greatest threat to children’s health care coverage is congressional inaction.”

We agree. As the children’s health advocates said, “What states and families need is stability. Instead, what they get from the House measure is a continuation of a dangerous trend: temporary, inadequate CHIP funding patches, delivered at the last possible moment with no comprehensive relief assurance.”

This popular children’s program may be just the first casualty as Congress eventually pays for the massive income tax cut law by reducing spending on Medicaid, Medicare and other domestic programs as outlined in the GOP budget blueprint.

Congress shouldn’t allow children’s health care to be used as a political bargaining chip.

-- The Billings (Mont.) Gazette

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