Fort Worth Star Telegram

In an attempt to avoid a looming federal government shutdown Friday, it seems that children – again – have been made a pawn in a political debate. That’s regrettable. And it’s wrong.

Earlier, negotiations over keeping the government open for business swirled around DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The program provides protection from deportation for so-called Dreamers, immigrants brought to this country as children by their parents. Some congressional Republicans and the president wanted money for a border wall, among other things, in return for continuing the DACA program.

The Star-Telegram Editorial Board said then that using children as a bargaining chip to pass measures that wouldn’t be adopted on their own merit is not acceptable. We’re saying that again as congressional representatives, mostly Republicans, put CHIP funding in peril unless they can pass a stopgap funding bill that avoids concessions for the Dreamers.

CHIP was created to help low- and moderate-income families get comprehensive health care coverage. In Texas, more than 400,000 children are covered by CHIP, and almost 33,000 in Tarrant County. Nationally, the number of children receiving coverage is about 9 million.

CHIP actually flatlined in September, when Congress initially failed to renew funding. It has been kept alive through hook and crook, most recently by money infused into the system through a short-term spending bill in December.

In Texas, the state Health and Human Services Commission said that $248 million it received would keep it afloat through February.

A bill released late Tuesday as part of the spending negotiations would extend CHIP for six years and negate the need for these short-term fixes. It would also postpone two unpopular measures in the Affordable Care Act that tax medical devices and high-value “Cadillac” insurance plans. The Republicans plan to bring the legislation up to a vote Thursday.

Efforts to save CHIP have bipartisan support. The New York Times reported that the Congressional Budget Office contends funding CHIP is actually less expensive than enrolling the children in Medicaid or subsidizing their coverage through the federal marketplace. The Times also quoted Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., as saying that continuing the program for 10 years, as the Democrats want, would save $6 billion.

It sounds like extending CHIP is a no-brainer, which leads us to bemoan the fact that a program allowing children to see a doctor and generally lead healthier lives has become a political football over funding the federal government.

Like DACA, we also believe the future of CHIP should be addressed on its own merits, not as a sweetener to get Democrats to vote for the spending plan.

We understand cutting a deal in Washington is a reality, but we are playing with the lives of children who may be your neighbors or members of your family.