Among the many factors in Democrat Doug Jones’s victory over Republican Roy Moore in the U.S. Senate race in Alabama on Tuesday, one has been curiously ignored: namely, Jones’s focus on the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
CHIP was created 20 years ago in a bipartisan effort — the way major reforms used to happen — that united Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and the late Ted Kennedy (D-MA). (Hillary Clinton, who was First Lady at the time, tried during last year’s presidential election to claim credit for helping pass the legislation, which earned her a “mostly false” rating from Breitbart News’ in-house fact-checkers.)
The program, which pays for health insurance for children, is run by the states, but jointly funded by the states and the federal government. Some 9 million American children, often with unusual health expenses, are covered by it because their parents earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but they cannot afford the insurance costs on their own.
Congress failed to fund CHIP by the Sep. 30 fiscal year deadline. And Democrats and Republicans have not yet agreed on how to fund it. So it has been surviving on funding from the states, which is not going to last forever.
That has set off panic among many middle-class American families. But CHIP has been largely absent from the political debate. The media — mainstream, conservative, and liberal — seem to have ignored it, for the most part.
But voters are not ignoring it. A recent Harvard poll showed that CHIP funding was the number one priority for American voters — by far. (The Russia investigation was #11 out of 15, and renewing DACA was #12 out of 15.)
One person who did not ignore CHIP was Doug Jones. He talked about it on the campaign trail, and referred to it again in his post-election press conference. In that sense, among others, Jones was more in touch with voters than Moore, more aware than the vast majority of pundits and political professionals.
In retrospect, everyone should have seen this coming. Last month, the voters of Maine overwhelmingly passed a referendum to expand Medicaid coverage under Obamacare. As Breitbart News observed at the time, Americans may not like Obamacare, but its collapse has left them stuck with massive insurance bills that many cannot afford.
They are also fearful of what the Republican alternative might be. “Americans today prefer the insurance they don’t have under Obamacare to the insurance they might have under the Republican plan,” this author observed.
Many observers are comparing Jones’s win — a rare blue victory in a deep red state — to Scott Brown’s historic win in Massachusetts in 2010. Then, the issue was Obamacare, which Massachusetts voters did not need and a majority of Americans did not want. Obama ignored the results and pushed the bill through, which cost his party the House.
Though the Alabama result was mostly a rejection of Moore, it was also a cry for help from the middle class. The country cannot afford the health care it is required to buy. Republicans will remove Obamacare’s hated individual mandate — the most constitutionally problematic part of the law — in their tax reform bill. But the task of fixing the nation’s health insurance system is becoming more urgent one every day. And most voters do not want to hear more idealistic lessons about “market-based” solutions.
Like it or not, Americans want the federal government to provide a health insurance safety net. And right now, they trust Democrats more to provide it, despite Obamacare’s failures. Jimmy Kimmel, one of the few people to comment on CHIP has — falsely — blamed Republicans for the funding crisis. His facts were wrong, but he was appealing to the widely shared idea that the GOP is not the party of help.
The urgent task for Republicans, and for President Trump, is not just to find a way to save CHIP, but also to lead a process of fixing the health care system. That process will almost certainly have to be bipartisan to succeed.
Jones’s victory is a wake-up call. And — who knows? — perhaps he could be a Democratic partner in the process.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.