IN THEIR RUSH to wrap their tax cut presents and get out of Washington for Christmas, lawmakers took two issues where there’s supposedly bipartisan support for action and kicked them down the road into 2018.
One is the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, which provides affordable health coverage for almost 9 million children in families who earn too much to quality for Medicaid but still have relatively modest incomes; regular federal funding for that program expired at the end of September.
The other is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, under which the Obama administration had protected from deportation some 800,000 illegal immigrants brought to this country as kids. In September, Trump said he was bringing DACA to an end; the administration claims, disingenuously, that it doesn’t have the legal authority to decide not to deport the so-called Dreamers without explicit congressional approval – though it has also said it will defer action for six months to give Congress time to act to protect the Dreamers if it wants.
The stop-gap funding measure passed just before Christmas does avert the immediate crisis for CHIP. Otherwise, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 16 states would have run out of funding for their CHIP programs in January, with another 21 arriving at that point in February and March. DACA isn’t quite as pressing, because as Trump himself has said, he could revisit the issue.
But continuing uncertainty has created confusion for states trying to plan for their CHIP programs and trauma for the Dreamers trying to plan their futures. Whatever the merits of the tax cut, that’s now law. When Congress returns from its Christmas break, it’s time to focus on CHIP and DACA.
As US Senator Ed Markey sees it, there is bipartisan support to resolve both issues.
“We probably have the votes from the Republicans on both CHIP and DACA,” he says. “But it is all being held hostage by Republican leadership and the White House.”
President Trump, for example, has said and tweeted in recent days that he won’t do a DACA deal without funding for a wall on the southern border — the same wall he repeatedly claimed Mexico would pay for — or without changes in immigration policy, including an end to family-based, or chain migration, the effects of which the administration has greatly exaggerated.
Markey thinks the Republican leadership will also probably try to leverage more money for the Defense Department, a waiver of the so-called pay-go rules, under which spending increases here must be offset there, and a reauthorization of surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Service Act that allows monitoring of foreigners but also sweeps into its net communications of US citizens.
These are very different and complex matters, all important enough to be considered on their individual merits rather than jammed together in the next bout of budgetary brinksmanship.
Republicans have been declaring for months that they intend to find a solution on both CHIP and DACA. The time has come to make good on those pledges — and before the impending midterm elections make any legislative action uncertain. And if they don’t? Well, then Republicans will have provided voters with yet another reason why don’t deserve to stay in power.