Last Thursday, the House passed a $1.2 trillion FY 2018 omnibus bill, H.R. 3354, by a vote of 211-198. The House spending package has prompted debates over topline spending numbers as well as the inclusion of policy riders (i.e. policies that are attached to spending bills that do not relate to spending). Much to Democrats’ chagrin, the House omnibus bill would block funds for Planned Parenthood, cut funding for non-defense agencies such as USDA and EPA and provide funding for portions of a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.
Senate appropriators, on the other hand, are slowly working to establish a more bipartisan appropriations measure that includes greater non-defense funding and fewer riders than the House-passed omnibus. Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said in a statement last week that the House package "will not pass the Senate." The Senate Appropriations Committee does not plan to hold any markups this week because Senators will only be in session through Wednesday.
Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced legislation last week that would turn the Affordable Care Act's (ACA’s) insurance subsidies and Medicaid funds into a block grant program. In order to have any hope of passing, the bill will need to reach the Senate floor before the end of September so that Senate Republicans can use FY 2017 reconciliation instructions (only requiring 50 votes).
Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Chair of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee and Patty Murray (D-WA) continue this week to work on their bipartisan legislation designed to stabilize the individual health insurance markets created by the ACA. This legislation would appropriate payments to insurers meant to keep premiums down for low-income beneficiaries for at least one year.
In addition, last Tuesday, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), ranking member of the committee, announced that they had reached agreement on a plan to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for five additional years. Without an extension, the current funding for CHIP will run out at the end of September. Senator Hatch said the agreement would provide “uninterrupted funding for CHIP” and “increased flexibility for states to administer the program.”
Nearly nine million children receive health insurance through CHIP, a program for children in families that make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford other coverage. Since the program was created, the proportion of children who are uninsured has fallen to less than 5% today, from nearly 14% in 1997.