Republicans Suddenly Want to CHIP In

Republicans Suddenly Want to CHIP In

As time winds down for Congress to pass a short-term spending bill to avoid a government shutdown, Republicans have another plan in the works—not only to place the blame for a shutdown squarely on Democrats but to blame them for a failure to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Early Friday morning, House Speaker Paul Ryan had this to say:

Republican Representative Martha Roby of Alabama had this to say:

It’s a clever, albeit diabolical, strategy. CHIP is an extremely popular program—88 percent of Americans say it is important to reauthorize the health insurance program. But it couldn’t be clearer that House Republicans are using CHIP’s popularity as leverage against the Democrats, hoping that by including CHIP’s reauthorization in the spending bill that Democrats will be forced to vote for it.

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes recently tweeted,

Given many Republicans’ views on CHIP in the past, one tends to side with Hayes over Ryan and Roby.

While it’s true that the program largely enjoys bipartisan support (Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and his good friend Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah sponsored the creation of CHIP in 1997) there are many Republicans who are ambivalent about the program and support it grudgingly. A standalone bill that funds CHIP would easily pass, especially considering CHIP expired in September.

But it’s not as if all Republicans have always supported health care for low-income kids. In 2009, President Obama signed a bill that expanded the program to cover an additional four million low-income children; for the most part, the bill passed on party lines. Republican Representative Steve King of Iowa said the program would be the “foundation stone for socialized medicine in the United States.” President George W. Bush had vetoed two similar expansion bills in 2007, believing, as Bush said, that those measures went too far toward “the federalization of health care.”

Compared to poor adults, most people view poor children as worthier of government assistance. Though CHIP may resemble just another abhorrent entitlement program for some conservatives, the reality is that Americans say that want to support poor kids. (The same often cannot be said about supporting poor children’s care providers, their poor parents or guardians: witness the current state of the Medicaid debate.) That’s why Republicans have moved to use CHIP’s reauthorization as a political football to try to bring the Democrats to heel on other issues, including DACA. How the Democrats respond will be instructive: Will they cave into the pressure in an election year or will they forcefully refuse to compromise on protecting DREAMers?