Susan J. Demas: When Kids’ Health Becomes a Bargaining Chip

  Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas

 

I don’t want to live in a world where politicians killing health care for 9 million needy children is okay. And I definitely don’t want to read hot takes exalting heinous opportunists for mastering the art of political hardball.

But that’s where I fear we are.

Congressional funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) expired on Sept. 30 and many states are set to run out of money as early as today. The federal government will also shut down at midnight without a spending deal.

It’s hard to believe we’ve gotten to this point. CHIP was founded in 1997 with bipartisan support, as most people used to agree that making sure all kids could afford to go to the doctor was one of those universal goods. U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who co-sponsored the original bill, famously told the New York Times the program would prove the Republican Party “does not hate children.”

In the last few decades, the party has won support for cuts to undeserving bums on welfare or even on unemployment in states like Michigan. Hatch summed up the conservative philosophy thusly:

“I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves, won’t lift a finger, and expect the federal government to do everything. Unfortunately, the liberal philosophy has created millions of people that way, who believe everything they are or ever hope to be depend on the federal government rather than the opportunities that this great country grants them.”

But most Republicans, even Ayn Rand-worshipping House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), probably never dreamed that they could get away with ripping health insurance from the angelic Tiny Tims of society.

It’s important to remember that Republicans currently control every branch of government in Washington. However, they grew frustrated last year over their stalled conservative agenda. Most notably, the Senate piled up failure after failure to repeal Obamacare — that monstrous program that’s allowed 20 million more Americans to gain health insurance.

So GOP leadership made the call to hold CHIP hostage (yes, as a proverbial bargaining chip), most recently in negotiations to prevent a government shutdown.  

Republicans have argued that CHIP would add too much to the deficit. Originally, it was estimated that it would add $8.3 billion. However, a new nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office report found that CHIP would actually save $6 billion over the next 10 years. How is that possible? Turns out, CHIP is cheaper than the alternatives, like private insurance bought on the exchange or employer-based coverage.

But Republicans pretty much gave the game away by rushing through their tax plan before Christmas. It’s estimated that these tax cuts primarily benefiting corporations, millionaires and billionaires will add $1.4 to $2 trillion to the deficit. Because my daddy is a CPA, I know that that’s a much bigger number than the $8.3 billion CHIP was once thought to cost.

Of course, now we know CHIP will dent the GOP’s deficit damage by saving us $6 billion. And we could all sleep better at night knowing 9 million children can still afford to get sports physicals for school, immunized against communicable diseases and chemotherapy for leukemia.

That’s why renewing CHIP is what would happen in a just world, perhaps somewhere on Earth 2, as the kids say.

In the real world, however, I wouldn’t place any large bets on it.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.