CONGRESS seldom agrees on health care, as is shown by the Republicans’ fruitless attempts to rip up the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. A longtime exception to partisan feuds was the Children’s Health Insurance Programme (CHIP), established in 1997. The scheme, which covers some 9m American children, has been credited, along with Medicaid, health insurance for the poor, and Obamacare, with reducing the share of children without health insurance from 14% to a record low of 5% over the past 20 years. But on September 30th federal funding for CHIP expired. State agencies, which administer the programme with federal grants, are running short of cash and are on the cusp of issuing notices cancelling policies.
Lawmakers, who must offer a fix to restore the funds, are dithering while Republican leaders concentrate on grander legislation. Senators Orrin Hatch of Utah, a rock-ribbed Republican and a grandfather of CHIP, and Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, have offered a bipartisan patch to fund the programme for the next five years. Over the next ten the proposed fix would cost $8.2bn, a paltry sum for a Congress also pondering a tax cut of $1.5trn. But the bill has become stuck in the House, where committee members have attached contentious offsets tinkering with Medicaid and Medicare—health insurance for the elderly—which are unlikely to be approved by Democrats. This brinkmanship “breaks the history of bipartisanship” that CHIP has long enjoyed, says David Blumenthal, the president of the Commonwealth Fund, a health-policy think-tank. “We’re setting ourselves up for a game of chicken.”