By Kyle Cheney and Jason Millman
Lawmakers have been battling the war on women. On Monday, Democrats tried to open a new front: kids.
Early debate over the House Budget Committee's markup of its plan to replace the sequester was dominated by the way the package would affect children's enrollment in health insurance.
The debate suggested that Democrats may be eyeing the effect on kids' coverage as another line of attack on the GOP budget as the election approaches.
Democrats say the sequester replacement plan would lop 300,000 kids off the Medicaid and CHIP rolls within three years, while the sequester protects children's enrollment.
"The choice is to deny millions of children in this country those eye exams or hearing exams and instead to protect the largest oil and gas companies -- they don't need it," said Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.).
Last month, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that repeal of health reform's maintenance of effort requirements -- included in the GOP reconciliation plan -- would reduce Medicaid and CHIP enrollment by about 300,000 people in 2015.
Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas) countered that unless spending is reined in, the growing federal deficits would "bankrupt the future for the children you say you care so much about."
The debate was prompted by an amendment by Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) that would have canceled the bill's repeal of the maintenance-of-effort provisions, as well as its elimination of bonuses for states that boost enrollment in Medicaid and CHIP. She would have paid for her amendment by eliminating tax loopholes for Big Oil.
Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) defended the repeal of the maintenance-of-effort requirements, pointing out that under the ACA, the children would just shift over to the health insurance exchanges if they didn't get Medicaid coverage. He also acknowledged a contradiction in his own defense, though, noting that Republicans are trying to undo those exchanges.
Early questioning from the Budget Committee's top Democrat, Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, suggested that the GOP package would cut off future federal funding to help states set up health exchanges.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said Washington spends too much time judging the success of government programs based on how much money is put into them. Under that analysis, he said, "Medicaid's phenomenally successful."
"But we're not measuring outcomes," he said. "Are these programs working? Are people getting out of poverty?"
Ryan argued that his budget plan would provide flexibility to states that would like more authority to manage their Medicaid programs and fewer "strings from Washington."