In 1997, with the federal government running a budget surplus and Congress looking for a legislative win, Sens. Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, saw an opening for an ambitious effort to get health care to millions of poor children. Kennedy and Hatch believed correctly that the well-being of children without health insurance should be a matter of bipartisan concern, and their colleagues largely agreed. Thus the Children’s Health Insurance Program was born.
Ever since then, Congress has periodically extended CHIP financing to states, whose governments oversee and help fund their CHIP programs. Then last year, Congress failed to reauthorize CHIP before federal funding expired Sept. 30. Since then, states have scrambled to continue to provide care to the nearly 9 million children and 375,000 pregnant women who rely on CHIP. Connecticut had to freeze enrollment last month, and many states have been preparing for similar moves as already-appropriated federal dollars were used up.
Having some 9 million CHIP patients as hostages turned out to be just the leverage that Republicans needed to force Senate Democrats to provide enough votes Monday to end a brief shutdown of the federal government and to hit pause on their push to shore up and extend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The stop-gap spending bill that ended the shutdown included a six-year, $123 billion commitment to CHIP through 2023.
This is welcome, but please, no applause. CHIP should never have been in danger. And government shutdowns are indefensibly expensive and petty. Incredibly, another showdown looms in two weeks.
Instead of a replay of this weekend’s tiresome drama, here’s the commitment lawmakers should make the next time around: to stop creating hassles for everyone who relies on the federal government by shutting it down over fiscal fights. That should be a low bar to clear — even for this Congress.
This editorial was written by the staff of the San Diego Union-Tribune. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of The Lima News.