U.S. Rep. Greg Walden hopes an agreement funding the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is close at hand for Congress.
Walden (R-Hood River) held a conference call with reporters Friday discussing his stance on the CHIP program.
“This has been a critical program for the district,” Walden said. “I’ve always supported it every time it’s come up for a vote for funding.”
The program covers 122,700 children and pregnant women in Oregon and 9 million across the country.
The New York Times reported that CHIP’s federal funds ran out on Sept. 30, and Congress has not agreed on a plan to renew the roughly $14 billion a year it spends on the program. The program will expire in March unless lawmakers extend it.
As chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Walden backed legislation renewing CHIP.
“Back in the fall we passed a fully funded five-year extension (for CHIP) through the House on a bipartisan vote,” Walden said. “That bill has been in the Senate … ever since they’ve never been able to pull together a bipartisan volume of support enough to pass it.”
However, Walden said he’s had “productive” talks in the Senate about a CHIP renewal plan.
“I am optimistic that will go forward next week in the U.S. House,” Walden said.
“I’ve had some very good and direct conversations with my Oregon colleague (Sen.) Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) about this. I won’t presume to speak for him, but suffice it so say I think we’re on a similar page here and we intend to move forward.”
Following projections that CHIP would be much cheaper to reauthorize due to changes in health care policy, some lawmakers have renewed their push for its renewal.
The Congressional Budget Office this month estimated a Senate bill adding five years of financing to the program would cost $800 million. Previously, the analysts estimated it would cost $8.2 billion, according to the Associated Press.
A much larger price-tag before the recalculation was “part of the hang-up,” Walden said.
Changes in the “scoring” came with the GOP tax bill, namely the repeal of the individual mandate, Walden said.
“The budget office has now come back and recalculated the cost,” he explained.
Walden said Congress is now positioned to renew CHIP for six years, which would be its “biggest” single extension in the program’s history.
Discussing its impact on his district, he said, “We all know the importance of prenatal health care and everything that goes with childbirth and young children, and as parents knowing that your child is covered is essential not only to your peace of mind but their quality of health.”
If adopted the money would kick in immediately, Walden anticipated, “if we do a continuing resolution or a bigger budget agreement … we’re in pretty good shape to be included in either one of those.”
The federal program covers parents who earn too much for Medicaid, but not enough to afford other coverage. In Oregon, Walden said, the feds pick up most of the tab.
If plans for the CHIP renew fall through, Walden expects policymakers would keep seeking short-term extensions providing states with funding relief “as we have done all along.”
That’s not maintainable, he argued.
“But look, that money is running out once again there’s too much uncertainty out there,” Walden said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Response to Trump Comments
Following a Washington Post report that President Donald Trump made demeaning remarks about immigrants from “shithole countries,” Walden met the President’s words with criticism.
Asked by a reporter for his response, he said, “It is both offensive and unnecessary, and unhelpful as we try and bring people together, especially on finding resolution to the immigration issue.”
Walden then drew attention to remarks by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California), who reportedly said “five white guys” were spearheading discussions on immigration reform instead of minority members of Congress, according to Politico.com.
“I also found it offensive what Nancy Pelosi said and she was condemned by Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) the other day,” Walden said.
Walden voiced a similar response to Trump’s remarks during a Bend visit earlier that day, according to a story by the Bend Bulletin.
In the afternoon conference call, Walden said, “People really have to watch their words. I think it matters a lot these days, especially when … a lot of us are trying to operate in a very civil, thoughtful manner when we interact with others.”