New bipartisan talks on funding the Children's Health Insurance Program got off to a rocky start Wednesday as a top Democrat doubted lawmakers would reach a deal by the end of the week.
Democrats are highly skeptical of Republican efforts to pay for the insurance program by charging wealthy seniors more for Medicare, which some say is part of a larger effort by Republicans to cut the entitlement program. That skepticism and opposition to Obamacare changes to fund the program come as Democrats and Republicans go back to the table to determine how to fund a five-year reauthorization of the traditionally bipartisan CHIP.
"I can't accept these [Affordable Care Act] cuts and so far there isn't any willingness to not include them," said Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Committee Chairman Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said Tuesday he would delay sending a reauthorization bill to the House floor to restart bipartisan talks on how to fund the program.
Pallone said lawmakers still have time to negotiate, even though Walden set an end-of-week deadline. Walden said he would send the bill to the House floor if a deal wasn't reached.
"Obviously it is not coming up this week and we have another week," Pallone said.
The House is expected to leave Thursday, a day earlier than planned, for a break that will last until Oct. 23.
CHIP expired Sept. 30, but states won't start running out of money until late November at the earliest.
The traditionally bipartisan CHIP passed the House panel last week by a party-line vote. Democrats were infuriated by several funding offsets such as charging higher premiums to Medicare recipients who make $500,000 or more a year and taking money from an Obamacare prevention fund.
Behind the Democrats' opposition is concern about the Medicare cuts could mean long term.
"I don't think it's an accident at all," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., on why the cuts were included. "It has always been a dream of the Republicans to undo Medicare or never pass it in the first place or let it shrink on the vine."
Schakowsky said Medicare already has income eligibility requirements, known as means testing, to ensure that wealthier seniors pay more.
Other Democrats were concerned about the abruptness of the premium hike.
"Means testing in Medicare to that extent is such a fundamental change it really demands allowing all the stakeholders to weigh in, having hearings and doing this in an open process and not rushing it through," said Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., another committee member.
Democrats were also concerned about the Obamacare changes. Those include taking money from an Obamacare disease prevention program and shortening the grace period for Obamacare customers to pay premiums or face their insurance being cut off.
The fund, used for public health programs, was used for another bipartisan program: the 21st Century Cures Act that passed in 2016.
However, the fund was intended to help with public health programs, and Republicans believe that CHIP and a two-year reauthorization of community health center funding qualifies, according to a House GOP aide.
"The committee remains open to any serious offers from Democrats, as Chairman Walden announced yesterday," the aide said. "But we have to receive one first."
The Senate is still in talks on its own funding offsets. The Senate Finance Committee passed its own version of CHIP reauthorization a few weeks ago but without funding offsets.