CHIP Reauthorization Takes Center Stage in New Jersey’s Third District

US Representative Tom MacArthur (R-NJ). Dominick Reuter/AFP/Getty Images

Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-3) voted in November to extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) through 2022, but his opponent in the race for New Jersey’s third congressional district, Andy Kim, has tied MacArthur to the current inaction on the bill in the Senate.

“MacArthur and GOP are pushing tax cuts for the wealthy before helping millions of sick children,” Kim said in a Sunday Twitter post. “3 month (sic) since Congress let CHIP expire—still no solution in sight. This isn’t about politics, it’s about the lives of 9 million children, over 100,000 in NJ.”

But, according to MacArthur, Kim’s comments about CHIP indicate that the Democrat is politicizing child health care ahead of the 2018 midterm in the district. The bill has never been partisan, but a Nov. 3 vote in the House passed in a party-line vote, with a majority of Republicans –including MacArthur– backing the bill while most Democrats opposed it due to a disagreement about how to fund the reauthorization.

CHIP is a federal program that extends medical coverage to children with health conditions whose parents do not have or cannot afford private insurance, some 8.9 million children nationwide. Funding for the program expired in late September but was temporarily extended through the end of December by President Trump while lawmakers hammer out the details of the reauthorization, a stopgap that MacArthur supported. In order to fund the bill, Republicans want to shorten the grace period for those Affordable Care Act enrollees who fall behind in premium payments and divert money from the program’s public health fund. Democrats say those provisions are a thinly veiled gut of the ACA.

“It is just patently false for Andy Kim to try spin some tale that I don’t support CHIP funding,” MacArthur said. “I voted twice in the past month and half on this and I am going to do it again. It is Democrats that are holding this up. The Democrats in the House voted no on that because they didn’t like how we paid for it, basically.”

Kim spokesman Zack Carroll said that he believes CHIP has become a partisan issue, despite MacArthur’s assertions to the contrary. Carroll said that House Republicans passed the bill knowing that it would head to an uncertain future in a Senate that is currently focused on the tax plan. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has yet to put CHIP funding up for a vote in the Senate.

“It’s disappointing that MacArthur and Congressional Republicans can’t pass something as simple as reauthorizing healthcare for children without sabotaging people’s healthcare,” Carroll said. “MacArthur passed a dead-on-arrival bill that Congressional Republicans knew the Senate would never pass because of the harm it would cause. It’s deeply cynical that the first priority of Congressional Republicans is to pass a tax scam bill through the Senate that explodes the deficit and benefits the rich like Tom MacArthur.”

But MacArthur disagrees, noting that CHIP negotiations have not been part of the GOP tax negotiations. MacArthur called on Democrats to work toward bipartisanship on the CHIP bill, as well as funding for other critical programs that are currently at an impasse in Congress

“CHIP and the tax bill have nothing to do with each other,” said MacArthur, the only New Jersey House member to approve of the GOP tax bill. “With funding, Democrats are basically saying, ‘We will hold defense hostage, we will hold CHIP hostage, we will hold all these programs hostage until we get our priorities.’ I think Democrats would do well to remember that the American people put them in the minority and they can’t hold up every necessary program in the country until they get their own way on everything.”

The third district is considered a Republican stronghold and MacArthur is predicted to win the 2018 midterm election in the district. But Kim, a former Obama security advisor, is attempting to carve a path to victory in the district, part of a national effort by Democrats to flip the House next year. MacArthur said that children’s health should not be seized upon for “political points.”

If CHIP funding is not reauthorized soon, at least five states are predicted to run out of money for the program by the end of January. But it is still possible that a deal will be reached on CHIP by the end of the year before states are unable to fund health care for children.

“Andy Kim is being extremely careless trying to tie this around my neck,” MacArthur said.

CHIP Reauthorization Takes Center Stage in New Jersey’s Third District