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Break the cycle of partisanship with infant, child health care programs


If you’ve picked up a newspaper, turned on a television, or glanced at the Internet recently, you’ve seen, heard, or read about the problems our elected officials in Washington are having conducting the ordinary business of government.

Whatever you may think about our current political difficulties, those of us who have served in Congress can tell you: This is nothing new.

The two of us served in the House of Representatives from the late 1970s until 2015. Those nearly four decades in office provided ample evidence that governance isn’t always smooth sailing. We’ve seen it all. Iran-Contra. An impeachment. Six government shutdowns.

In other words, 2017 was far from the first time that our country has faced challenging circumstances.

{mosads}Every Congress has to overcome trying times, some more than others. As we worked through our toughest days as policymakers, the two of us were on opposite sides of more than a few issues. We quickly realized that legislative impasses and partisan conflicts come in waves. Our political climate shifts from cooperative peaks to contentious valleys and back again.

The hard part is figuring a way out of the valley — together.

The best and simplest path forward is to unite around shared values and to champion programs that not only have broad, bipartisan support, but which also help Americans who need them most.

That goal is far more attainable that it might seem at first blush. Today, Congress has real opportunities to find that elusive common ground. Opportunities to make a genuine difference in the lives of families from coast to coast. Opportunities to prove cynics wrong by showing that government can still work.

To achieve all of that, Congress can begin by scoring some faith-restoring “wins.” And there are two obvious and urgent ones at the top of the list.  

Namely, Congress should immediately reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the Maternal, Infant, Early Childhood Visiting Act (MIECHV). These programs expired on September 30, despite the fact that both programs are broadly popular, successful, and supported by both parties.

CHIP provides health insurance for kids whose parents make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford private insurance. CHIP insures about nine million children nationwide — or approximately one-in-ten American kids. Since Congress first enacted CHIP about 20 years ago, child mortality rates have dropped significantly.

Preventative treatment made possible by CHIP also keeps kids in school more days, allowing working parents to remain more productive. Moreover, the program is a godsend to working families who risk financial ruin if they happen to have a child who faces serious illness or injury.

MIECHV, a separate federal program, provides federal funding for voluntary home visiting programs in all 50 states. These programs pair a qualified home-visiting professional with an at-risk parent or parents. The professional teaches parents the essential skills they’ll need to raise healthy children who can successfully hit critical development milestones. High-quality home visiting programs are a “two-generation” solution that has been shown to cut rates of abuse and neglect by as much as half, while also reducing the likelihood that participating children and their parents will engage in crime.

Voluntary home visiting programs can help parents who don’t have the support system in place that would otherwise teach them child-raising techniques. Home-visiting professionals impart that knowledge to young and expectant parents — knowledge that is especially important during the critical prenatal-to-three period.

Unfortunately, failing to reauthorize funding for CHIP and MIECHV has created instability and uncertainty for states, families, and providers. States are already starting to run out of CHIP funds, and some have begun sending out dis-enrollment letters to parents in order to notify them that their children may lose CHIP insurance as early as January 2018. As MIECHV funding also begins to dwindle, nurses and other professionals who perform home visits will begin to look for other, perhaps more stable employment due to fears that their home visiting programs will cease to exist.

In short, delays have consequences. And the sooner Congress acts, the better off everyone who benefits from these invaluable programs will be.

Immediate reauthorization of both programs would be a tremendous step forward for Congress as an institution. It would rekindle confidence where there currently is little, foster much-needed optimism, and, most importantly, maintain effective programs in which both parties can take pride.

It’s past time to remind voters that Congress, at its best, does do right by the American people.

We’ve been in the valley long enough.

Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) served in the House of Representatives from 1977-2015. Tom Petri (R-Wis.) served in the House of Representatives from 1979-2015. Both of the authors are senior advisors to Council for a Strong America.

Tags 110th United States Congress 111th United States Congress Children's Health Insurance Program Federal assistance in the United States Medicaid Nick Rahall Tom Petri United States

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