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GOP lawmakers prioritize tax cuts over children's health program

Tax breaks for the wealthy are on Congress' front-burner; the Children's Health Insurance Program has been pushed to the back.
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.

Congress was supposed to extend funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) by Oct. 1. For those counting at home, that was 11 weeks ago, and the Republican majority has largely ignored the issue since the deadline passed.

As expected, states are doing their best to move funds around to prevent children from losing coverage, but there's already evidence that they're running out of time. Officials in Colorado have already begun notifying families that the state's program will soon exhaust its available resources, and officials in Virginia started the same notification process yesterday.

Any chance the GOP-led Congress will tackle the issue soon? According to an Axios report from yesterday, the answer is, sort of.

Congress is unlikely to pass a multi-year funding solution for the Children's Health Insurance Program until January, according to House GOP leadership sources. But it will continue to pass temporary measures to make sure states get the funding they need until then.Between the lines: Federal CHIP funding expired at the end of September. While there's a lot of bipartisan agreement on the general idea of funding CHIP, finding sources of revenue that can get across the finish line -- and then actually passing it -- just isn't Congress's top priority right now.

If this reporting is right, lawmakers won't actually let any kids lose their coverage, but the House and Senate also won't get around to passing a multi-year CHIP until after the winter holidays.

I'm glad, though, that Axios' piece used the word "priority," because that captures the broader political dynamic nicely.

As the year wraps up, Congress could turn its attention to doing what it was supposed to do in September: fund the Children's Health Insurance Program, which has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support.

But Republican lawmakers had a very different "priority." CHIP went to the backburner, while tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations became the party's sole focus. GOP policymakers decided the best use of their time would be a scramble to overhaul the federal tax code -- at a pace that can charitably be described as reckless -- ahead of an arbitrary Christmas deadline.

The Children's Health Insurance Program, which faced a real deadline, could wait.

It brings us back to Sen. Orrin Hatch's (R-Utah) argument during the Senate debate on his party's regressive tax plan. After boasting about his role in helping write the original CHIP law, the Utah Republican said, "[L]et me tell you something: we're going to do CHIP. There's no question about it in my mind. It's got to be done the right way. But we, the reason CHIP's having trouble is because we don't have money anymore."

Of course, passing tax cuts "the right way" is evidently unimportant, and "we" might have more resources available for children's health care if Republicans weren't passing an indefensible tax plan that the country can't afford.

It's simply a matter of "priorities."

Postscript: ABCs Jimmy Kimmel took an interest in the CHIP debate on his late-night show yesterday, which wouldn't be especially notable, except the last time Kimmel weighed in on a health care fight, it turned out to have a meaningful impact.