Republicans have decided to pit children in need of health insurance against vulnerable undocumented immigrants in an effort to win support for their short-term plan to keep the government open.
On Tuesday night, House Republican leaders unveiled their latest effort to avoid a government shutdown, a stopgap measure that would fund the government for another month. The latest version includes a six-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides health insurance to 9 million children, but it doesn’t include funding for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA).
The DACA program provides work permits and temporary deportation relief to 800,000 undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children. Last year, President Donald Trump rescinded the program, giving Congress three months to come to an agreement on a solution for DACA recipients (known as “DREAMers”). A small handful of Democrats have promised to vote in favor of a shutdown if the upcoming funding bill does not provide a solution for DACA recipients, and Tuesday’s bid — now with CHIP funding — is a blatant effort to get Democrats to vote for the bill.
One unnamed Republican congressional aide admitted as much to the Daily Beast Wednesday, saying, “After Democrats slammed Republicans for not caring about sick children for months, the GOP is turning the tables on Democrats with the government funding package with CHIP provisions… Democrats are faced with a choice to eat their words or support a Republican vote.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also tried to turn Democrats’ words against them Wednesday, issuing a release with a number of quotes from Democrats in recent weeks about how vital it is to fund CHIP.
And it is vital to fund the program. It’s been more than three months since Congress failed to reauthorize CHIP, and some states have begun to warn recipients that they’re running low on funding, and coverage may end soon. Officials in Virginia and Colorado sent letters late last year telling families that they would lose their insurance beginning January 31 without funding from Congress, and officials in Utah told ThinkProgress in December they’re preparing to do the same, though they don’t know the exact date funding will run out.
DACA recipients are facing a similar time crunch. Absent congressional action, recipients will begin to lose their deportation protections on March 5.
But DACA and CHIP don’t need to be pitted against one another. It’s not an either/or choice. Republicans could have brought a clean — or cleaner — CHIP funding bill to the floor anytime in the last four months, and it very likely would have passed. But Republican leadership instead waited until now, when they could use the lives of 9 million children as leverage.
Topher Spiro, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, encouraged Democrats to vote against the funding bill Wednesday, despite the new inclusion of CHIP. (ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed in CAP.)
“I’m a CHIP advocate. Democrats should reject this bill,” Spiro said on Twitter. “CHIP will get done; there is no greater certainty. No one should pit CHIP against Dreamers.”
Funding for CHIP and protections for DACA recipients both have bipartisan support, but a DACA agreement will be the harder deal for Democrats to negotiate, with Republican hard-liners like Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) certain to do anything to sabotage protections for DREAMers. And for now, Democrats have a big bargaining chip, and the smart move would be to use it on the thing for which it’s harder to negotiate.
But the question now is whether Democrats will indeed resist falling into the GOP’s trap. Republicans need nine Democrats to pass any spending bill, and 16 Democrats voted for the most recent funding measure. Last week, ThinkProgress contacted all 49 Senate Democrats about whether they would vote against a spending bill that didn’t include a DACA fix. Just seven said they would hold out on Friday if there is not a DACA fix included in the funding package.