Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is defending a children’s health care program he helped create, but if the federal deficit balloons by at least $1 trillion as predicted under the Republican tax plan he’s authored and shepherded through the Senate, programs for the elderly and the poor will likely take a hit.
While praising the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and indicating the program will survive, Hatch nonetheless said last Thursday, shortly before before the Senate passed its tax reform bill, that Congress must address funding deficits and so-called entitlement programs.
“I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves, won’t lift a finger, and expect the federal government to do everything,” Hatch, the Senate Finance Committee Chair, said Thursday on the Senate floor.
Hatch told senators that there’s no question that the CHIP program will continue to exist, but the deadline for Congress to reauthorize its funding is now two months past its expiration date. Emphasizing government overspending, Hatch indicated that changes may be coming to CHIP but insisted that “it’s got to be done the right way.”
“…For decades now, we’ve been spending more than we have, building more and more federal programs, some of which are lousy, some of which are well intended, and some of which are actually good like the CHIP program,” said Hatch. “We’re going to get CHIP through. There’s no question about that.”
Numerous analyses and reports have found that the Republican tax cuts could significantly increase the federal budget deficits. Last Thursday, the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation released a report that found that the Senate Republicans’ $1.5 trillion tax cut would not pay for itself, according to the New York Times.
The Times described the findings as a “significant setback for Republicans, who have asserted that the tax cuts would grow the economy enough to cover the cost of the plan.”
Given the deficit predictions, advocates for the elderly and the poor have warned that possible cuts to programs that serve these populations would be coming down the pike.
But in what Newsweek described as the first confirmation from a prominent Republican, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) admitted last week that the tax plan, which largely benefits corporations and the wealthy, will require cuts to Social Security and Medicare to pay for the plan.
“We have to do two things. We have to generate economic growth which generates revenue, while reducing spending. That will mean instituting structural changes to Social Security and Medicare for the future,” said Rubio speaking at a Politico conference.
Last month, President Donald Trump said welfare reform will be next on the agenda after tax reform, and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) likewise indicated recently that in 2018 he wants Republicans to focus on cutting spending on government programs.
Meanwhile, Congressional Democrats warned that the writing is on the wall when it comes to cutting programs for those receiving public assistance.
“Make no mistake, the #GOPTaxScam is a Trojan Horse for Republicans to take an axe to public assistance, Medicare and Social Security,” wrote U.S. Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) via Twitter on Friday.
While speaking on the Senate floor on Thursday, Hatch appeared to blame Democrats for government spending that goes to people who take advantage of aid programs but won’t “help themselves.”
“Unfortunately the liberal philosophy has created millions of people that way who believe everything they are or ever hope to be depends on the federal government rather than the opportunities that this great country grants them,” said Hatch.
But Hatch’s legislative history shows that he too has been a proponent of such programs, for example, working with the late Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass) to pass the original legislation that created CHIP, which provides health insurance to uninsured children from families with modest incomes. To convince Hatch to get on board, one of Kennedy’s aides even serenaded the Republican with a patriotic song, which sealed the partnership.
Earlier this fall, Hatch worked with Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) on a bipartisan agreement to extend CHIP for five years with the Keeping Kids’ Insurance Dependable and Secure (KIDS) Act (S. 1827). But the bill has yet to be introduced, and the September deadline to reauthorize the program’s $8 billion in funding passed with no action from Congress.
“Today’s advancement of the KIDS Act is an important step toward ensuring the children and families who rely on CHIP do not see a lapse in health coverage,” Hatch said in a press release. “…I will continue to work with Ranking Member Wyden and my colleagues to further advance this bill in a fiscally responsible manner to provide certainty for this critical, bipartisan program.”
Meanwhile, The Intercept reports that the CHIP program is popular across the country, with more than 60 percent of Americans saying CHIP reauthorization should be a “top federal priority, while only 28 percent say tax reform should be.” If Congress doesn’t act, the program will be in jeopardy in places such as Minnesota where Governing magazine reported last week that the state has officially run out of federal CHIP money.
“Under normal circumstances I’d say, ‘Yeah they’ll pass it,’” Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus, a children’s advocacy group told The Intercept. “But we’ve been promised this for months now and Congress has shown no ability to focus on this, to get it done.”