The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that reauthorizes federal funding for a health insurance program that covers low-income children.
The bill, known as the Keep Kids’ Insurance Dependable and Secure Act, extends the Children’s Health Insurance Program, commonly known as CHIP, for five years. The program has bipartisan support and must be re-authorized every five years, and it expired Sept. 30.
Senators did not determine how they would pay for the bill’s $8.2 billion in offsets.
The only senator to vote against advancing the bill was Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, who said before the vote that he was worried about how Congress was using a large portion of the funding toward purposes other than healthcare for kids.
“This is becoming a slush fund for the Appropriations Committee,” he said. “They spend it on something else completely in violation of the spending caps we’re supposed to have.”
Toomey’s office provided documentation from the Congressional Research Service showing that during the past seven years, more than $42 billion had been been rescinded from the program to be used on unrelated programs through the appropriations process.
Toomey, along with Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, had planned to offer an amendment that would help ensure funding went only to the purpose of children’s health insurance. A senior aide said the amendment would ensure full funding for CHIP and its contingency fund and wouldn’t change the way the program operates, or alter Congressional Budget Office projections.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he was upset to learn about the funding being used for other purposes, and Toomey didn’t call for a vote on his amendment but said he wanted to continue talking to different committees about his concerns.
During his opening remarks, Hatch said he was pleased that the bill had bipartisan support. “It isn’t perfect and I’m not wholly supportive of some of the subsequent changes to the program, but most people still consider it to be a success,” he said.
Congress allowed the program to expire last week without a vote as members were focused on a bill that would have overhauled Obamacare. States will not run out of funding for a few months, but some states face sooner-than-expected depletion in funding after hurricanes battered their communities. The funding can go toward helping with relief efforts related to children’s health.