In another desperate legislative battle between the Democrats and the GOP, our government shutdown last week. While the House passed a short term funding bill, the Senate could not reach the same agreement, resulting in a government shutdown at midnight on the 20th. This shortcoming in the Senate largely fell on the shoulders of the Democrats with most of their leadership objecting to the short term funding (about 95% GOP support vs 5% Democratic support). However, some Democrats like Doug Jones voted to avoid the government shutdown and some Republicans such as Rand Paul voted for the shutdown. The media coverage and narrative regarding the shutdown has not been kind to the Democrats with #SchumerShutdown trending during the shutdown. Unsurprisingly, President Trump took to Twitter during the shutdown to ensure that the Democrats appeared at fault in the narrative. While this shutdown may do damage to the Democrats in the 2018 midterms, there was far more immediate damage at risk.
This particular showdown was another failed opportunity to renew federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) which provides health coverage for 9 million children. On Monday a stopgap bill, which funds the government until February 8th, officially reauthorized CHIP for another 6 years. While this can be seen as a win for access to healthcare for disadvantaged children, there were other important programs that are still not officially reauthorized for federal funding.
Many low income Americans get their healthcare from community healthcare centers that have now had a lapse in official funding . While the CHIP program has faced issues with funding extensions in previous cycles, these community centers have not. Despite appearances, funding for these health centers is supported by both parties, with uniformity even broader than CHIP. The problem with a lapse in funding to these health centers, which cover about 8% of all Americans, is that they are the place where many CHIP program enrollees get their healthcare . This means that despite the renewal of the CHIP program for another 6 years, the program may lose effectiveness. Additionally, the health professionals that work in these centers will suddenly find themselves unemployed in a nation that is already facing issues trying to ensure healthcare access in low income areas. A large drop in funding for the program will likely cause the closure of ¼ of the centers, 51,000 lost jobs, and the loss of health care services for 9 million Americans according to government data.
There will undoubtedly be a great deal of political maneuvering and negotiation ahead of the next possible government shutdown when the short term fix expires on February 8th. What remains to be seen is how the GOP will approach the situation without CHIP as a bargaining tool against the Democrats . However, they could very well leverage funding for community health centers as another way to avoid a deal on the Obama era program now known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. On the other side of the isle, Democrats will likely be more cautious with the upcoming shutdown because giving in to the Republicans this time inflamed many of the people to whom the shutdown was meant to cater .