CHIP: The Rest of the Story
Yogi Berra is said to have commented once, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” I think I understood what he meant after I, along with the Republican House majority, voted yet again on January 18 to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). This is the third time I have voted for an extension of CHIP and the second time the entire House has done so, in addition to two times the House passed short-term funding to keep the program running while waiting on the Senate to act.
Considering the widespread support this program has in both parties, it is amazing that we had to vote so often to fund it, or that this extension’s future still remains unclear. But a lack of cooperation from the Democratic minority in the House and the Senate has brought about this unfortunate situation.
Further, it is perplexing that Virginia’s senators have not been vocal about getting this done since former Governor Terry McAuliffe said in December that CHIP funding in Virginia runs out on January 31. That deadline may have moved into February or early March as a result of the last funding continuing resolution (CR).
Funding CHIP has traditionally been a bipartisan priority. The House Energy and Commerce Committee, on which I serve, began work on legislation to extend funding well before it was set to expire last year. The Republican majority sought to fund this program responsibly through spending offsets so that it would not add to the deficit and national debt. The offsets we sought are hardly objectionable for anyone who thinks supporting children’s health insurance should be a priority.
For example, as I previously noted in this column, one of the “pay-fors” would require Medicare beneficiaries with incomes over $500,000, or $875,000 for a couple, to pay more of their premiums for Medicare Parts B and D. This is over $500,000 in income, not assets, so savings themselves or the family farm would not count, and this amount is ten times the median household income of the Ninth District.
However, the minority party chose not to make that well-off person pay a little more in order to fund CHIP. As the clock ticked, they delayed again and again without offering any solutions of their own. Those of us in the majority on the Committee believed we could not wait on their cooperation any longer, so we passed a bill to reauthorize CHIP on October 4, 2017. That’s right, over three months ago.
After this vote, the minority indicated they were willing to come to the table and asked that House leadership delay putting up for a floor vote the bill that had passed out of Committee. Leadership accommodated them because they did not want to make the issue partisan. An issue that traditionally has gathered widespread bipartisan support.
During this time, former Governor McAuliffe sent a letter to the Virginia congressional delegation calling on us to act immediately to fund CHIP. As I pointed out in a letter responding to him at the time, he would have been better off asking the minority on the E&C Committee, as they were the source of the delay. Ultimately, the recalcitrance of the minority forced us to press ahead with a floor vote on CHIP without a bipartisan agreement. On November 3, with the support of most Republicans and just a handful of Democrats, the House authorized five years of funding for CHIP.
The House did its job, but the Senate has not. It still has not put on the floor an extension of funding for CHIP, whether the House bill or its own.
A recent reevaluation of the cost of CHIP by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) drastically lowered their predicted cost of a CHIP extension. Accordingly, under the rules in Congress, based on the CBO prediction, a CR to fund the government included six years of CHIP funding. On January 18, the House of Representatives voted on this CR. Once more, most Republicans voted for this package and most Democrats voted against it. As I write this, Democrats in the Senate are also threatening to vote against this measure that funds CHIP for six years.
I am frustrated that anyone would play politics with CHIP (and other issues like military funding), but unfortunately that is exactly why we found ourselves in this situation on Friday, January 19. It’s long past time for this to end.
If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov.
Congressman Griffith’s Weekly E-Newsletter 1.19.18