Senators' pitch for five-day bill spurs hopes for broader healthcare package soon
As threats of a government shutdown mount, senators are pitching a new stopgap strategy, which could open the door for a broader spending package that includes funding for key health programs.
The five-day spending measure would force lawmakers to once again delay what was formerly considered an all-but-certain six-year Children's Health Insurance Program funding extension in the hopes they will negotiate a broader deal.
Federal government funding runs out Friday. The success of the monthlong continuing budget resolution scheduled for a vote on the House floor Thursday night is looking increasingly doubtful as the House Freedom Caucus refuses to concede its critical voting bloc and Democrats remain largely opposed to the proposal, largely due to spending caps and resolving the status of undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children.
For now, House GOP leadership isn't notifying members of a contingency plan, and Republican lawmakers told Modern Healthcare they're optimistic they can pass the spending bill tonight.
Still, hospitals hope the latest twist in the Senate means Congress will include a delay to disproportionate-share hospital payment cuts and add funding for community health centers and so-called Medicare extenders in the final negotiations should the new idea in the Senate carry the day.
"Shutting down the government is not an option," Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) said. "Yet I'm worried if we don't continue to negotiate and resolve our differences now on this whole list of issues that are apparently going to be combined into the appropriations bill, we'll be doing the same thing in February, March and into the future."
The continuous punting is exactly what worries hospitals should CHIP pass now without the Medicare program funding, DSH payment cut delays and other provisions.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday played to these concerns when she announced continued Democratic opposition to the current House GOP continuing resolution.
She said Democrats would introduce their own measure as part of House floor procedure to pair 10 years of CHIP funding with funding for community health centers and Medicare extenders, as well as DSH cut delays, and other expired healthcare provisions.
The contingency plan pitched by Moran on Thursday, which is garnering more and more support among Republican and Democratic senators, would fund the government for three-to-five days in order to force negotiations between the two parties on a longer-term spending deal.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said this even-briefer patch wouldn't happen and the monthlong funding provision will stand. But Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who also belongs to the Republican leadership team, didn't dismiss the idea. He would have to see what a shorter continuing resolution would look like, he said, but "I don't think we're gaining much by doing two- three- and four-week CRs."
As lawmakers wrangle over a budget deal, they continue to hold CHIP hostage as political leverage. Bickering escalated late Wednesday when House Republican leaders called a news conference where they blamed the Democrats in advance if CHIP funding gets delayed again in the fallout of budget talks.
"It's unforgivable that we are at this point," Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) said of potential Democratic threats to block the short-term patch even with the CHIP funding attached.
Pelosi responded Thursday with sharp words of her own.
"This is like giving you a bowl of doggy-doo, put a cherry on top and calling it a chocolate sundae," Pelosi said, urging 10 years of CHIP funding on top of funding for the other healthcare programs. "It's always been a package."
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