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Senate Committee Advances Children’s Health Care Bill

Only Sen. Toomey spoke out against

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., emphasized the need to keep CHIP legislation bipartisan. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., emphasized the need to keep CHIP legislation bipartisan. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday approved by voice vote its bipartisan bill to renew funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Senators withheld amendments in an effort to speed up passage. During the voice vote, only Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., spoke out against the measure.

“The first point I want to make is that there are a number of senators on both sides  . . .  who very much want to offer ideas  . . .  and to their credit they decided to not offer them this morning,” said the panel’s ranking member Ron Wyden, D-Ore. The markup could have gone differently, he added, emphasizing the importance of keeping the legislation bipartisan.

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The bill by Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, and Wyden would renew funding for the program for five years and retain for two years a 23 percentage point increase in federal funding that was in prior laws. After that, the extra federal funding would decline to an 11.5 percentage point increase before returning to traditional levels.

Hatch noted in his opening statement that CHIP funding expired last week but states have some money left from this year. States can use two-thirds of any leftover money until it’s gone.

“It is still paramount that we act quickly both here and in committee and through the next steps in this process to ensure eligible children do not go uninsured once federal funding is exhausted,” said Hatch.

Toomey suggested that he wants to ensure that money isn’t appropriated to unrelated programs besides CHIP. He said he hoped to address that before the bill makes it to the Senate floor. Toomey wants Congress to fund CHIP fully and its contingency fund while preventing appropriations provisions, known as Changes In Mandatory Programs, from taking away billions for unrelated programs.

“Shouldn’t we have a cap? Shouldn’t we adhere to it? Why are we the Senate Finance Committee creating a slush fund for the Appropriations Committee?” said Toomey.

Senators from both parties seemed to want to look into this issue further.

“Sen. Toomey’s point about CHIP money going to CHIP, I couldn’t be more supportive,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

“I’m very grateful that Sen. Toomey was willing to withhold to the floor. And I intend to keep working on this with him moving forward,” said Hatch.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is scheduled to mark up its version of CHIP funding on Wednesday afternoon.

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