Mitch McConnell and Tom Coburn
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Last week I noted some of the headaches Majority Leader McConnell faces now that it is the Senate’s turn to take up the repeal of Obamacare. Perhaps I should have included that the GOP leader has a history of crafting the most odious strategies to get what he wants, because the depths to which he will go should never be underestimated.

We know that one of the Republican’s favorite tricks over the last few years is to take items with a history of bipartisan support hostage in an attempt to promote their extremist agenda. Harris Meyer reports on what they are considering as their next hostage victim:

Republicans may seek to delay consideration of renewed funding for CHIP to use it as leverage to get Democrats and moderate Republicans to support their broad healthcare reform legislation, said Joe Antos, a conservative health policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute. Others predict funding for federally qualified community health centers also may become part of the negotiations.

That worries children’s healthcare advocates, who argue CHIP — which has enjoyed bipartisan support since its creation 20 years ago — is so important to the 8.4 million low- and moderate-income children it covers that it should be kept out of the looming partisan war over the AHCA. An estimated two million CHIP enrollees have serious chronic conditions.

We most recently saw that the Democrats weren’t willing to be held hostage to a government shutdown over the Trump administration’s insistence that a spending bill include funding for the president’s wall along our Southern border. But if McConnell ties the Senate version of Obamacare repeal legislation to whether or not CHIP funding is renewed, that is about as vile as politics can get. As Meyer’s points out, it would threaten the 8.4 million children who are covered by the program, 2 million of whom have serious chronic conditions.

The CHIP program, which was sponsored by Senators Edward Kennedy and Orin Hatch in 1997, is already in jeopardy if Republicans follow through on their plans to gut Medicaid.

Advocates also fear that the House GOP bill’s Medicaid cuts and restructuring would squeeze CHIP coverage because eligibility and financing for Medicaid and CHIP are intertwined. About 37 million low-income children are covered by Medicaid.

The House bill would cap the growth of federal Medicaid payments to the states, reducing per-beneficiary contributions for children and other groups below actual Medicaid costs. The Congressional Budget Office projected it would cut federal Medicaid spending by $839 billion, or 25%, over 10 years.

“If you do mortal damage to Medicaid, which the AHCA does, it would spill over to CHIP, which is joined at the hip with Medicaid,” said Sara Rosenbaum, a George Washington University law professor who served until recently as chair of the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC).

In addition, the AHCA cuts to Medicaid would threaten the care of millions of children with disabilities who are covered by the program.

So perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that Republicans would be willing to take the health care of children hostage in order to repeal Obamacare and capture those tax cuts for the wealthy. But such a move would fly directly in the face of the “Jimmy Kimmel test,” which seems to have captured how the American public feels about what is going on in Congress. I would certainly hope that if this is the direction Republicans go, it would trigger a public outcry against such a revolting attempt at immoral political gamesmanship.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.