WASHINGTON: Legislation providing five more years of financing for an expired children's health program moved near House passage on Friday. But a partisan battle over paying for the extension seems certain to delay the bill in the Senate and has each party accusing the other of jeopardizing a program that serves more than 8 million low-income children.
Fresh federal money for the health insurance program stopped on Oct. 1. States are continuing to use unspent funds, but Arizona, California, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon and the District of Columbia are expected to deplete that money by late December or early January.
Republicans want to pay for the extension in part by cutting a public health program created under President Barack Obama's health care law and raising Medicare premiums on upper-income recipients. They say it makes sense to trim some health programs to beef up others and said wealthy Medicare recipients could easily afford higher premiums.
Democrats oppose both. They say cutting the public health program would reduce money for providing vaccines and opioid abuse efforts, and charging top earners more for Medicare would prompt many of them to drop their coverage. They say that would undermine Medicare finances and erode political support for it.
"Delay, delay, delay," said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., chief author of the bill, about Democrats' opposition. "And vote against kids, vote against their hospitals and vote against their doctors."
Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, the committee's top Democrat, said Republicans were using the children's health bill to try damaging Obama's health care overhaul and were ensuring a stalemate by sending the measure to the Senate. Senators have agreed on a bill extending the program's money for five more years but remain divided over how to pay for it.
"It will go to the Senate, and it will sit there," Pallone said. "This bill is going nowhere. They know it."
An eventual deal on extended financing for the children's health care program is expected to be part of in a huge year-end spending bill aimed at preventing a federal shutdown. That measure seems likely to become home for a host of compromises.