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Children’s Health Insurance Program extended, long term fate uncertain

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Tom Graves

Rep. Tom Graves

Congress extended funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program through May in legislation passed before the break, but Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, declined to predict its ultimate fate.

“CHIP provides essential healthcare coverage for many children in Northwest Georgia,“ Graves pointed out in a statement over the holidays.

However, he offered no recommendations or suggestions for Georgia lawmakers as they head into their annual 40-day session that typically wraps up by April.

“I’m confident that Congress and the Trump administration can come to an agreement on an extension ... Short-term extensions have been necessary as we wait for Democrats to decide whether or not they want to join us in providing certainty for families who rely on CHIP,“ Graves said.

The stopgap measure keeps the government operating through Jan. 19, but long-term financing for CHIP had to be jettisoned to corral enough votes. Lawmakers also deferred action on the community health centers program as well as a long-term extension of electronic surveillance programs.

Top White House officials and congressional leaders from both parties met in House Speaker Paul Ryan's office Wednesday to try to make progress on a stack of unfinished business, starting with a hoped-for bipartisan budget deal.

Topping the agenda was an effort to spare both the Pentagon and domestic Cabinet agencies from spending cuts. Neither White House representative, budget director Mick Mulvaney, nor top legislative strategist Marc Short, commented on their way in.

The budget debate has been roiled by a demand from Democrats that nondefense programs win increases equal to those to be awarded to the Pentagon. That was a feature of prior budget pacts in 2013 and 2015 that were negotiated during the tenure of former President Barack Obama.

Now, with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office, Republicans insist that this idea of parity between guns and butter belongs on the scrap heap.

“We need to set aside the arbitrary notion that new defense spending be matched equally by new non-defense spending,“ said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “There is no reason why funding for our national security and our service members should be limited by an arbitrary political formula that bears no relationship to actual need.“

Unlike the recently passed tax bill and the GOP’s failed efforts to repeal the Obama-era health care law, the upcoming agenda will require votes from Democrats.

But bipartisanship has been in scarce supply under Trump, and heading into the session, spokesmen for neither Ryan nor top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York were banking on a breakthrough.

The budget battle is but one element of a tricky Washington matrix facing the White House, its GOP allies, and Democratic rivals like Schumer.

Particularly challenging is the question of immigrants, known as Dreamers to their advocates, who were brought to the country illegally as children but face deportation in March because of Trump’s decision to strip away Obama-issued protections for them.

Democrats say they won’t go along with any deal on the budget until Dreamers are guaranteed protections. That has sparked pushback from GOP leaders who insist on dealing with politically nettlesome immigration issues on a separate track.

“The president has been very clear that this is an important issue that he wants Congress to deal with," Graves said. "Our leadership’s made it clear, and I agree with them, that this is not something that is negotiated as part of a spending package, but it is a separate issue that should merit debate and discussion aside from the spending discussion."

Staff writer Diane Wagner contributed to this report.