Congress appears poised to finally ensure that millions of kids who rely on the federal government for healthcare won’t have to depend on the legislative process for the rest of President Trump’s first term.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) touted a proposed five-year renewal of the Children’s Health Insurance Program on Thursday morning. CHIP expired in October, as Congressional Republicans scrambled to ram through landmark reductions to the corporate tax rate before the end of the year.
“This month, we can set this right” McConnell said on the Senate floor. He was referencing a government funding deal that must be passed in two weeks.
The federal government is scheduled to run out of money on January 19 — the third such deadline Congress has set for itself in the last two months. During the last shutdown aversion deal, reached just before the Christmas holiday, lawmakers approved of a deal that extended CHIP funding for three months.
McConnell blamed Democrats for a failure to pass a five-year extension at the end of last year. In the second half of 2017, however, Congressional Republicans ate up most of the legislative calendar to get corporate tax reductions passed.
In the first half of last year, GOP lawmakers spent the majority of their time failing to get an Obamacare repeal passed after the effort stalled in the Senate. In both cases, Republican leaders didn’t hold hearings on the legislation they considered.
Nine million low income kids depend on CHIP for health insurance.
Despite Senate Democrats’ fierce criticism of McConnell for neglecting CHIP for months, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) isn’t ready yet to agree on Republican proposals to keep the government funded.
In a floor speech shortly after McConnell’s, during the time reserved for party leadership, Schumer called Wednesday negotiations: “a good first step, but there’s a lot of work to do.”
Schumer called for proposed increases in military spending to be matched with more money for various domestic programs. He called for CHIP and community health grants to be funded, for legislation to protect pensions, and for more money to treat the explosion in opioid addiction.
Schumer also said that the ongoing shutdown fight should consider the plight of Dreamers — some 800,000 undocumented residents, brought to the US as children, whose temporary protections from deportation expire in March.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in September the safeguards would not be renewed by the Trump administration.
“Every morning, they wake up with the pit of fear in their heart that they will be deported — separated from their families,” Schumer said.
During his speech, McConnell appeared interested in passing additional disaster relief during the funding talks, which is something Democrats also want to do.
But he took a hardline on addressing the plight of Dreamers, despite the fact it was caused in September by Trump, and despite the fact that Schumer called for a remedy to be paired “alongside border security.”
“It’s imperative that none of the urgent priorities be held hostage to our ongoing discussions around immigration policy,” McConnell said.
House Speaker Paul Ryan has also vowed to hold a standalone vote on legislation protecting Dreamers — in a move that empowers hardline xenophobes within the Republican Party.
During his speech, McConnell characterized the Obama-era protections for Dreamers as “unlawfully established.” No court, however, has ever ruled that the program violates the Constitution. The conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which killed an Obama order protecting the parents of Dreamers, upheld the initiative.