U.S. Sen. Doug Jones made federal funding for the Children’s Heath Insurance Program, or CHIP, a centerpiece of his successful special election campaign. Even before the allegations of sexual abuse surfaced against opponent Roy Moore, Jones used CHIP to run circles around Moore, who awkwardly stumbled when asked about his position on the issue.
Now, it is Jones who finds himself in an awkward position on CHIP. On Thursday, the House passed what might be considered a quick victory for Jones on the issue – a six-year renewal and full funding for CHIP – as part of a Continuing Resolution keeping the government operational for another four weeks. But Democrats, demanding any government funding bill also include an immigration overhaul to protect “Dreamers” from deportation, are organizing opposition to block the bill from receiving a vote in the Senate.
Federal CHIP money funds Alabama’s All Kids program, which provides health insurance coverage to more than 150,000 children. As Congress has argued over how to reauthorize the program, anxious Alabama state lawmakers are waiting to make budget decisions that greatly depend on that federal money.
With a full, six-year extension of CHIP on the table and state budget writers biting their pencils, Alabama’s newest senator faces a fascinating test: work with Republicans to accomplish his chief campaign promise or demonstrate loyalty to Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and the Democratic base?
I contacted Jones’ office Thursday to see where the senator stood. Through a spokesman, Jones was generally critical of the bill but stopped short of saying he would vote against it. When I asked if the critical statement meant he would be a no vote, the spokesman did not respond.
Complicating matters further for Jones is Schumer’s sudden shift to preferring a days-long Continuing Resolution with no CHIP extension. That means Jones is being pressured by Democrats to vote to block a bill that fully funds CHIP for six years in order to allow a bill that doesn’t contain any CHIP renewal at all.
That move may work for senators from states with a more liberal electorate that will reward fighting tooth-and-nail with Republicans to get an immigration deal. But, Jones represents conservative Alabama and won his election in part based on promises to work across party lines to get things done.
All but one of Jones’ colleagues in the Alabama Congressional Delegation is supporting the Continuing Resolution with CHIP funding and urging Democrats to drop their filibuster.
Sen. Richard Shelby was outspoken Thursday, drawing attention to the many Alabama families who depend on CHIP.
In Alabama, 150,000 kids are depending on the Child Health Insurance Program. I look forward to supporting the Continuing Resolution, which includes a 6 year #CHIP reauthorization and would keep the government open and running to continue the work of the American people.
— Richard Shelby (@SenShelby) January 18, 2018
Alabama’s GOP House Members – Reps. Bradley Byrne, Martha Roby, Mike Rogers, Robert Aderholt, Gary Palmerand Mo Brooks – released a rare joint statement calling on Democrats to pass the House-passed spending bill.
I join @RepMarthaRoby, @RepMikeRogersAL, @Robert_Aderholt, @RepMoBrooks, and @USRepGaryPalmer in calling on Senate Democrats to avoid a #SchumerShutdown, reauthorize the #CHIP program, and fund the government. pic.twitter.com/Z75xUMFl8Q
— Rep. Bradley Byrne (@RepByrne) January 19, 2018
Alabama’s lone House Democrat, Rep. Terri Sewell, voted against the bill in the House but has not released a statement on her decision.
Campaign commitments in Alabama versus political pressures from Washington. It’s probably a very tough choice for Alabama’s newest lawmaker. But, that’s what he signed up for, right?
The government is set to run out of money at midnight. Here’s a refresher on what happens when the government shuts down.