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Paul Ryan’s latest political gambit is appalling, even for Paul Ryan

The House Speaker takes a victory lap that's dishonest even by his standards.

CREDIT: Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images
CREDIT: Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

On Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan released a statement patting himself on the back for shepherding “the longest extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program in history” through Congress.

Ryan’s statement is galling, given the political games Republicans played with CHIP since federal funding for the program lapsed four months ago.

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Since it was first implemented in 1997, CHIP has cut the uninsured rate for children by 50 percent, and the program has historically enjoyed bipartisan support. But when CHIP’s budget came up for reauthorization last fall, Republicans decided to use it as a negotiating chip. As Vox explains:

The program got caught up in heated political negotiations about the future of some of the most polarizing issues in Congress: Obamacare and immigration policy.

Last fall, Republicans proposed a plan to extend the CHIP program for an additional five years. But that plan included a series of deeply partisan spending cuts to cover the costs of extending CHIP — such as slashing Obamacare programs and Medicare — and Democrats refused to support the bill.

The stalemate dragged on through the holidays. States began to sound the alarm that some of the 9 million kids in the program would lose coverage imminently if Congress didn’t do something.

Then, in early January, the Congressional Budget Office released an analysis showing that extending CHIP for five years would be a relative bargain, costing just $800 million — a huge decrease over an earlier estimate of $8.2 billion.

But instead of simply approving a CHIP extension, Republican leaders in Congress continued to use the well-being of millions of kids as a political cudgel with which they could attack Democrats. Amid federal budget negotiations, Republican leadership suggested members of Congress faced a choice between funding the program and providing legal protections for the roughly 800,000 Dreamers who were brought to the country as children.

But there was no reason why Congress couldn’t both extend CHIP and help DACA recipients. Eventually, a short-term budget deal was reached that extended CHIP for five years while leaving the status of Dreamers unresolved until next month, when the federal government will again shut down unless another budget agreement is reached.

In short, Ryan taking credit for the CHIP extension is akin to a hostage-taker congratulating himself for eventually letting the hostage go. But Ryan goes even further. In his self-congratulatory statement, he suggests that it’s Democrats who don’t care about the children:

As you may know, this took longer than it should have. Last month, Speaker Ryan talked about CHIP’s history of bipartisan support. “Care for children in need should always, always go beyond party lines,” he said. Yet, five times in 2 ½ months, a majority of House Democrats voted to block both short-term and long-term extensions of CHIP funding. Even this week, with several states on the verge of running out of CHIP funds, Democrats maintained their opposition.

What Ryan doesn’t mention is that in each of the five instances he alludes to, Republicans tied funding for a CHIP extension in with poison pills Democrats were unwilling to swallow, such as gutting the Affordable Care Act’s public health fund.