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Failing America’s Sick Children

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, New York Times

Failing America’s Sick Children

Children from lower-income families could soon lose access to affordable health care because the Republican leaders in Congress have failed to renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program. This is a travesty.

After passing a lavish tax cut for corporations and wealthy families, Congress hastily left town in December without reauthorizing the federal-state health insurance program, which benefits nearly 9 million children. Authorization expired in September, and so far states have kept CHIP going with unspent funds carried over from previous appropriations. Before Christmas, Congress allocated $2.85 billion to the program, saying that the money would take care of the children’s needs until the end of March. But that appears to have been a gross miscalculation, because the Trump administration said Friday that some states would start running out of money after Jan. 19.

CHIP was created in 1997 and has helped halve the percentage of children who are uninsured. It has been reauthorized by bipartisan majorities of Congress in the past. But Republican leaders in Congress all but abandoned the program in the fall and devoted their time to trying to pass an unpopular tax bill that will increase the federal debt by $1.8 trillion over the next decade, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis released last week. By contrast, CHIP costs the federal government roughly $14.5 billion a year, or $145 billion over 10 years.

Republicans have held children’s insurance hostage to force Democrats to accept cuts to other programs. In 2017, House Republicans insisted that they would reauthorize CHIP only if Democrats agreed to offset spending on the program with cuts to Medicare and a public health program created by the Affordable Care Act. Democrats balked at those demands, given that Republicans did not bother to offset the loss of revenue from their boondoggle tax cuts.

A deal between the two sides should theoretically be easier to reach now. That’s because the CBO said this past week that reauthorizing CHIP would add just $800 million to the federal deficit over 10 years, much less than the $8.2 billion it had projected earlier. The budget office updated its estimates after the adoption of the tax law. That law will significantly reduce federal spending on health care by eliminating the requirement that people buy insurance, which many people do with the help of government subsidies. The budget office says that provision and a separate change to insurance regulations by the Trump administration will reduce the cost of insuring children.

Yet funding for CHIP is still far from assured. Congress has a lot on its plate, chiefly passing a spending bill by the end of this week to avoid a government shutdown.

If Congress does not act on CHIP, state governments will be forced to freeze enrollment, cut benefits, end their programs or come up with another source of money. For some families, the program, which costs them nothing or very little, is essential. Losing it would be a big blow. Many cannot afford coverage in the private market.

After meeting with Trump during the weekend at Camp David, Republican leaders suggested they wanted to work with Democrats on bipartisan legislation this year. If they are serious, they can start with CHIP. America’s children are counting on it.

Zinke’s Risky Venture into Deep Water

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke proposes to open up vast areas of America’s offshore federal waters to oil drilling, much of them in coastal waters that President Barack Obama, for good reasons, ruled off limits. At the same time, Zinke proposes to roll back safety regulations for offshore drilling rigs put in place after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout, an extraordinary act of corporate misconduct that not only fouled the Gulf of Mexico but also eventually cost BP a tidy $61 billion in cleanup costs, federal penalties and reparations to individuals and businesses.

Is there not something wrong with that picture? Much has been made of the damage Zinke’s orders will do to Obama’s environmental legacy, already under attack throughout the Trump administration. They are also an assault on common sense. Thinking about the recklessness of expanding the possibilities for disaster while simultaneously weakening defenses against it dizzies the mind. And all in pursuit of what Zinke and President Donald Trump call “energy dominance,” a vaguely defined and, as far as crude oil is concerned, almost certainly unattainable goal.

The administration’s drilling ambitions were contained in an updated five-year leasing plan covering the years 2019-24, required by Trump in an executive order in April. The pushback has already begun. Governors all along the East Coast, including the Republicans Rick Scott of Florida and Chris Christie of New Jersey, have said no thanks, do not despoil our coasts. Ditto the Democratic governors of California, Oregon and Washington.

That pretty much leaves Alaska’s politicians, always on the hunt for new discoveries to replace North Slope reserves and refill the state treasury, as the plan’s main cheerleaders — even though the ecological risks in the Arctic’s forbidding waters are greater than anywhere else because cleaning up just a minor oil spill would be difficult, if not impossible.

The proposed rollbacks of the safety rules governing offshore drilling are no less revealing of this administration’s fealty to the oil and gas industry. One rollback, announced Dec. 29 by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, would weaken the production-safety rule. It has a 30-day comment period. The other proposal, still in draft form, would revise well-control rules that govern technologies such as the blowout preventer that failed in the BP spill.

The rollbacks would not amount to a wholesale reversal of the Obama rules. But they would lighten industry’s responsibilities, and in so doing suggest a return to a more permissive regulatory era. Before the BP spill, offshore drilling was regulated by the Minerals Management Service, described in a 2008 report by the inspector general at the time, Earl Devaney, as hopelessly conflicted by its competing obligations to police the industry and also to grant leases and collect royalties.

After the spill, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar broke the agency in two, one part to do the leasing and collect the money and BSEE to enforce safety and other rules. He named a lawyer, Michael Bromwich, to run the enforcement arm, and ever since the oil companies and trade organizations such as the American Petroleum Institute and the National Ocean Industries Association have complained about regulatory overkill. Now, having spent eight years in exile, they have found someone who will listen to their complaints.

The result: weaker rules and a more compliant BSEE, which sees itself as a partner in encouraging offshore development and production — which was plainly not the reason the bureau was created. The days of Bromwich are long gone. The man now running BSEE, Scott Angelle, is an amiable Louisiana politician and friend of the oil industry who called for an early end to the temporary drilling moratorium imposed after the gulf spill.

Bromwich sees a sea change at the Interior Department, a change that spells an “enormous rollback” of the balanced approach toward exploration the Obama administration tried to achieve. It could well end badly.

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