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Republicans play a deeply cynical game with children's health care

The cynicism of watching congressional Republicans pretend to care deeply about CHIP is kind of amazing, even by 2018 standards.
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks during his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept.22, 2016. (Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters)
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks during his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept.22, 2016. 

The basic contours of a bipartisan agreement on the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) has been in place for months. Thanks to a favorable report from the Congressional Budget Office, financing was no longer a concern. All Congress had to do was pass the bill and protect millions of kids.

But that hasn't happened. Axios reported last week, "At this point, Congress' best excuse for not passing a bill to fund the Children's Health Insurance Program has nothing to do with CHIP itself. It's about keeping it around for leverage to help pass other, more controversial measures."

In other words, Republicans saw CHIP has a handy bargaining chip to be exploited for political gain -- which is precisely what they decided to do this week.

With time running out before a government shutdown, House GOP leaders added a six-year extension of the Children's Health Insurance Program to their stopgap spending bill, along with a series of tax breaks intended to undermine the Affordable Care Act. The House Republican leadership published this stunning tweet yesterday:

"Children's lives are at stake. It's time for our friends across the aisle to stop playing games with CHIP funding."

It followed House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) telling reporters that it's "unconscionable" for Democrats to oppose CHIP funding. Several GOP lawmakers held a press conference accusing congressional Dems of failing to support "American children."

I've been following politics for quite a while. I'm not sure I've ever seen political tactics this cynical.

Let's review some of the basic truths that Republicans are hoping you don't know. Last summer, Democrats urged the GOP majority to reauthorize the Children's Health Insurance Program, and Republicans ignored the request, choosing instead to focus on repealing the Affordable Care Act.

In the fall, Democrats tried again, reminding the Republican-led Congress that funding for CHIP expired at the end of September. GOP leaders again blew off the appeals, focusing instead on giving the wealthy massive tax breaks.

In the ensuing months, Democrats pushed CHIP, again and again, but to no avail. Republicans said they'd get around to the issue eventually, but it simply wasn't a top priority for the party. GOP leaders could've brought the Children's Health Insurance Program up for a vote at any time, and it would've passed easily, but they didn't.

This week, all of a sudden, Republicans have re-discovered the issue -- not because they suddenly care, but because they're hoping to pit CHIP beneficiaries against Dreamers, playing one progressive priority against the other.

Now, the House Speaker who could've made CHIP a priority before, suddenly believes it's "unconscionable" for Democrats to oppose a deeply partisan stopgap spending bill.

If there's a defense for cynicism this brazen, it's hiding well.