January 19,2018

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Wyden Blasts Republican Exploitation of Children’s Health Insurance Program

Washington – Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., delivered remarks on the Senate floor today regarding the needed extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which congressional Republicans are using as a political pawn to force a vote on yet another continuing resolution.

“I want to be very clear about what’s happening here. This is the exploitation of children by the governing party in America,” Wyden said. “It is wrong. It is causing needless panic among millions of families caring for sick kids. This crisis was a choice Republicans made. That’s the bottom line.”

Wyden’s full remarks can be found below.

Chairman Hatch was on the floor earlier today talking about the Children’s Health Insurance Program and, because his remarks were greatly misleading, I thought it important to come to the floor and set the record straight.

The Chairman and I did negotiate a CHIP extension back in September, and the Senate Finance did report it out in a near unanimous, bipartisan basis. CHIP could have passed the Congress within days, but the House Republicans had other ideas. 

From the moment the Finance Committee passed its bill, these children became hostages to the Republican political agenda. First the House Republicans tried to force ideological cuts in important health care programs -- including Medicare -- in order to allow this deal to go forward. Then, they conditioned helping kids on kicking Americans off their private health insurance. When that didn’t work, they took a new hostage: vaccines and preventive health.

For some reason, the House wanted to cut off programs that make Americans healthier by preventing disease in the first place. For obvious reasons, Democrats weren’t willing to sacrifice that hostage either.

Now, months after there was a bipartisan deal to finally give peace of mind to these parents and kids, the House Republicans have taken a new hostage: the proper functioning of the federal government. The Republicans have been stumbling from CR to CR since they took power, sacrificing the readiness of our military, impeding the federal response to natural disasters, and handicapping rural hospitals that don’t know when they’re going to get paid for the care they provide. We will not sacrifice this hostage either.

The Minority leader has made a good faith offer to give us a week to actually come to a deal that keeps the government functioning. Because this cycle of destructive, nakedly political, bad-faith governing cannot continue.

This is the absolute worst of American politics on display. Republicans control the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives. They set the agenda. They set the schedule. But Republican leaders watched and did nothing as the deadline for CHIP funding passed in the fall.  The health care of millions of American children was lower on the list of GOP priorities than a 1.5 trillion dollar tax cut for multinational corporations and the political donor class.

And since the fall, there’s been a near-constant stream of Republicans appearing on television and in print saying they’re all for CHIP -- they want to take care of these kids.

Colleagues, you’ve had months to act. You’ve had almost a year.  The program expired 111 days ago, the Finance Committee passed a bipartisan bill, but these kids and their families are still waiting. There is nothing aside from cynical political strategy forcing the Congress into this crisis we’re facing today.

Even the president, apparently in a moment of unsupervised “executive time,” said that a long-term CHIP bill ought to move forward unobstructed.

And a few weeks ago, the Congress learned that making CHIP permanent actually saves taxpayer dollars. It’s a better deal than a six year extension -- less of an expense for the taxpayer. True fiscal conservatives ought to be tripping over themselves to pass a permanent bill without preconditions. But at every turn in the CHIP debate, Republican leaders have found a new hostage.

So colleagues, I want to be very clear about what’s happening here.

This is the exploitation of children by the governing party in America.

It is wrong.

It is causing needless panic among millions of families caring for sick kids.  This crisis was a choice Republicans made.  That’s the bottom line.

It ought to end here today with the Republicans releasing the hostages - we need to pass a clean, very short, spending bill that allows us to end this CR nonsense once and for all.   And we need to pass a permanent extension of CHIP - an extension that saves the taxpayer money. We need to do this because it’s the right thing to do, not to get some petty political win or to force bad policy choices.