IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

GOP lawmakers look past real deadlines to focus on tax cuts

The Children's Health Insurance Program is facing crisis conditions. Congressional Republicans know this, but they've been too busy with tax cuts to act.
Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) published a curious tweet on Monday, expressing support for a popular program in peril. "Congress must renew funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program so the parents of the nine million children who are covered by CHIP can know their children's health care is secure," the Republican leader wrote.

It was odd because McConnell is in a position to renew CHIP funding, but at least so far, he hasn't done much of anything to act on his concerns. If he wants the Senate to focus on the Children's Health Insurance Program, McConnell can put the issue on the front burner. He does, after all, lead the chamber. It'd be like me publishing a tweet calling for more congressional coverage on MaddowBlog -- which would be weird since I'm not a passive bystander here.

But McConnell decided that tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations would be Congress' real priority. As the Washington Post's Catherine Rampell explained this week, that meant GOP lawmakers chose to overlook real, time-sensitive issues, including protections for Dreamers, post-hurricane aid for Puerto Rico, the stability of the health care system, funding for the government, and, of course, CHIP.

Nine million children depend on CHIP, which provides insurance to minors whose families are not quite poor enough for Medicaid but who still can't afford private insurance.The 20-year-old program has historically received bipartisan support. But its federal funding lapsed in September and has yet to be renewed by Congress, which has been too preoccupied with cutting taxes for billionaires.Lawmakers' inaction has left millions of children, including some in the middle of lifesaving care such as cancer treatment, in limbo. As Congress squabbles and delays, states have temporarily extended this critical program using reserve funds or money from other sources, but dollars are rapidly running out.

Republicans recognized this from the outset, but decided tax breaks for those already at the top required their immediate attention -- even if that meant ignoring meaningful deadlines.

"This was manufactured urgency," Joseph Thorndike, a tax historian and director of the Tax History Project, said yesterday. "There was nothing urgent about this at all, not even the reconciliation instructions required this kind of urgency. The urgency here was completely willful."

What's unclear is just how many kids may lose out as a consequence. Officials in Alabama announced on Monday, for example, that without congressional action, it will stop allowing children to enter the state's CHIP system on Jan. 1 -- which is just 11 days away.

Officials in Connecticut, meanwhile, said its CHIP system is poised to shut down by Jan. 31. Colorado and Virginia also recently notified families that their state programs are in jeopardy because of Congress' neglect.

In all, by the end of January, a third of the states will have exhausted their available CHIP resources.

Axios reported last week that House GOP leadership sources said Congress will "continue to pass temporary measures to make sure states get the funding they need" until lawmakers find time to work on the issue in earnest, which means families may not actually suffer.

But as of right now, those "temporary measures" haven't passed. Republicans have been too busy focusing on tax breaks for those who don't them.