Improbable as it may sound, House Republicans are on the verge of approving, without much fanfare, a major priority of Hillary Clinton's.
When Clinton ran for president in 2008, she touted her role as first lady in "designing and championing" the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, which provided coverage for millions of children whose parents did not qualify for Medicaid but could not afford private insurance. At the time President Clinton signed the law in 1997, it constituted the largest expansion of government-funded children's health insurance since the enactment of Medicaid in 1965.
On Tuesday, Republicans unveiled legislation that would extend CHIP for another two years, without spending cuts or changes of any kind. The program's funding is due to expire at the end of September, making this an unusual case of Congress moving to act well in advance of a deadline. You won't hear much about the CHIP extension from Republicans, however. They are supporting it to gain Democratic backing for one of Speaker John Boehner's top goals: a package that permanently prevents steep cuts in Medicare payments to doctors and institutes a few long-sought reforms to the entitlement program. The so-called "doc fix" is an annual headache for both parties, and repealing it for good has commanded most of the attention inside the Beltway. Yet extending funding for children's health insurance is equally significant, and its inclusion in the bill represents a rare bipartisan breakthrough, as well as a sign that the nation's improved fiscal footing is helping to ease the gridlock in Congress.
That Republicans might extend CHIP is a testament to its popularity. After 18 years on the books, the program is an accepted component of the social safety net. Health policy experts say it has succeeded in its original goal of providing coverage to more than half of the nation's uninsured children. And when congressional leaders asked governors last year what to do with the program, both Republican and Democratic state leaders urged them to continue it, said Ron Pollack, the executive director of FamiliesUSA. CHIP's trajectory is a mark of hope for supporters of Obamacare—and a reason for fear among conservatives. The longer a government program endures, the more popular it becomes, and the harder it is to eliminate it.