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Dem pushes back on CHIP extension proposal

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Disagreements over how to pay for an extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) could result in a partisan bill reaching the House floor as soon as this week, a top House Democrat said Monday.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), the ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Republicans are insisting that the extension is paid for by cutting other health programs, adding that the bill could get a floor vote in the House on Thursday.

Representatives for House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) did not respond to a request to confirm the schedule.

The proposed legislation would extend funding for CHIP for five years while phasing out ObamaCare’s funding boost to the program. It would also extend funding for community health centers for two years, and provide $1 billion to help with Puerto Rico’s looming Medicaid crisis.

House Democrats have objected to how the bill would be paid for, saying that the bill would cut ObamaCare’s public health prevention fund and raise Medicare rates for wealthy seniors. It would also cut the grace period for ObamaCare enrollees who fail to make premium payments.

The bill passed committee without any Democratic support. Committee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) agreed to return to negotiations with Democrats, but it appears the talks have yielded little.

Last week, Walden said Republicans hadn’t heard any counter-offers from Democrats.

Speaking at an event in New Jersey on Monday, Pallone said Democrats don’t object to paying for the bill, which the Congressional Budget Office estimated will cost $8.2 billion over ten years.

He also said Democrats have made counter-offers, like eliminating the spending caps known as the sequester. Pallone said Democrats also offered a proposal to have drug companies foot part of the bill.

Until the bill gets to the floor, Democrats have said there’s still an opportunity to negotiate.

“There’s no reason for this bill to move forward,” Pallone said. “It’s just like a messaging exercise.”

If the House passed its version, Pallone said it isn’t likely to pass the Senate, which is developing its own bill and hasn’t publicly discussed ways to pay for it yet. The two chambers would have to convene a conference committee to work out the differences.

“If we go to conference we’re just going to delay this thing for months,” Pallone said.

Congress missed a Sept. 30 deadline to extend funding for both CHIP and community health centers.

Some states have some money to carry over until the end of the year, but states will have to begin sending notices to families soon, explaining that their children will lose insurance coverage if Congress fails to act.

Arizona could be the first state to run out of funding, possibly by the end of November.

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