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Republican tactics put children's health program in jeopardy

Congress was supposed to fund the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) four weeks ago. What happened?
Empty hospital emergency room. (Stock photo by  DreamPictures/Getty Images)
Empty hospital emergency room.

Congress had a deadline of Oct. 1. That was the day current funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support, expired.

Health care advocates initially hoped lawmakers would act soon after, and the missed deadline would be inconsequential, but nearly four weeks later, there is no solution.

Why not? Vox's Dylan Scott explained:

The problem is offsets -- spending cuts to pay for CHIP's funding for the next five years. Congress needs to find about $8 billion in savings.House Republicans proposed cutting Obamacare's public health fund, cutting the grace period for Obamacare enrollees who fail to make premium payments, repealing the law's Independent Payment Advisory Board, and making some smaller cuts to Medicare and Medicaid as their plan for offsets.

In other words, House Republicans effectively said, "We'll make sure those 9 million children are covered, but Democrats have to agree to pay for it by undermining the Affordable Care Act."

When it's $1.5 trillion in tax cuts, Republicans aren't especially concerned with figuring out how to pay for their priority. When it's $8 billion in health care funding for kids, it's a very different story.

Not surprisingly, Democrats aren't impressed with the GOP's offer. By all accounts, House Republican leaders don't care, and are moving forward with their far-right CHIP bill.

The trouble is, if it passes, the measure would then go to the Senate, where it'll need 60 votes. Senate Democrats are almost certain to balk, which means Congress, having already missed its deadline, is wasting time on a pointless partisan endeavor.

It also means Republicans are playing games that put children's health care in jeopardy for no reason.

To be sure, the crisis is not immediate. CHIP is a joint program between federal and state governments, and as we discussed a month ago, states can move some money around to create a buffer to keep the program going while everyone waits for Congress to get its act together.

But that buffer is quickly eroding, and several states are likely to run out of money in December, creating the very real possibility that some children will lose their coverage because Republicans, who ostensibly support CHIP, are playing games.

The House vote on the partisan CHIP bill is reportedly going to receive a vote next week. Watch this space.