Orrin Hatch comments on Chip health program at heart of social media storm

TV host Joe Scarborough, accused of taking remarks out of context, says Utah Republican was playing ‘cartoon version of a GOP senator’ in spending discussion

A social media storm blew up on Sunday after a TV host suggested the Utah Republican Orrin Hatch thought children and pregnant women who receive federal healthcare assistance did not deserve such help because they “won’t lift a finger” to help themselves.

Joe Scarborough, the former Republican congressman and TV host who shared Hatch’s remarks on Twitter, was accused of taking them out of context. Responding, he said Hatch had been playing “a cartoon version of a GOP senator”.

The chair of the Senate finance committee made the remarks during debate on the tax bill on the Senate floor on Thursday.

Independent reports have said that if the Senate tax cuts became law as they were passed early on Saturday, heavily in favour of richer Americans and corporations, they could add as much as $2tn to the national debt. Republicans counter that the economic stimulus provided by the cuts will cancel out such cost.

During debate, Brown was pressed by the Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown about the financial plight of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (Chip).

Around nine million children and 370,000 pregnant women are covered by Chip, which Hatch helped to write and which was signed by Bill Clinton in 1997. Its funding lapsed on 1 October, amidst fights over the Affordable Care Act.

The program, which costs around $15bn a year, is subsisting on emergency funding. A federal report released in July predicted that “all states are expected to exhaust their federal Chip funds during [financial year] 2018”.

“Nobody believes more in the Chip programme than I,” said Hatch, 83, in answer to Brown. “I invented it, I was the one who wrote it.”

After agreeing that the late Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy also contributed to the creation of Chip, Hatch continued: “Let me tell you something: we’re going to do Chip. There’s no question about it in my mind. And it’s got to be done the right way.

“But … the reason Chip’s having trouble is because we don’t have money anymore. And to just add more and more spending and more and more spending…

“I happen to think Chip has done a terrific job for people who really needed the help. I’ve taken the position here for my whole Senate service: I believe in helping those who cannot help themselves but would if they could.

“I have a rough time…

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