Congress must realize human lives aren’t bargaining chips

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Congress must realize human lives aren’t bargaining chips

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It’s no secret that our government is incredibly divided. Almost every piece of legislation that comes to the floor seems to be a fight to the death between Democrats and Republicans, and this year’s budget is no different. Except that this time, both political parties are using human lives to get their way.

Last month, House Republicans tried to pass a budget for the year, but with a string attached: either fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program enacted during the Obama era. 

DACA gives people who were brought to the United States illegally as children a chance to temporarily work and study for two years before renewal. The recipients are heavily vetted and not allowed to stay if they have any sort of criminal history. Currently, there are around 800,000 people enrolled, but if the program is not extended after March 1, around 1,000 people a day will lose their enrollment every day because they will not be able to renew, and will be deported to a country they have never known. 

CHIP, on the other hand, gives healthcare to children through Medicaid and other programs. Although it is administered by the states, the federal government provides a large bulk of funding. Last September, Congress let federal funding for CHIP expire, causing the parents of over nine million children in the United States to question whether their children will receive life-saving healthcare after 2018.

This seems like a simple numbers problem at first, right? But when it is looked at more deeply, it’s clearly a manipulation by government officials to use human lives as bargaining chips to further their own political agendas. 

Congress let CHIP expire back in September, when tax cuts were passed and Republicans were focused on dismantling Obamacare. Most Americans disapproved, and Congressional approval rates plummeted lower than they already were. And although CHIP funding could be renewed at any point in time without being attached to anything else, Congressional Republicans linked it to DACA, and blamed Democrats when they refused to pick between the two programs. 

When Congress agreed on a temporary bill to fund the government through this week, they also agreed to fund CHIP for the next six years. DACA recipients, however, still don’t know what their future holds. 

With ICE in command and deportation numbers increasing by the day, many who are enrolled fear they could be sent back to a country where they have no memories, no family, and potentially, no guarantee that they won’t be killed. And since there is no end in sight on DACA negotiations, many recipients are bracing for March 1, when their enrollment is in question.

There’s no morally right answer to which program Congress should have funded. Who are we to say that one’s livelihood is more valuable than another’s? Why even pit those two programs, who have no connection other than they are funded by the federal government? 

Congress is clearly out-of-touch with the American people if they think it is okay to weigh human lives against each other and force us to choose which one is more important. Both CHIP and DACA have saved thousands of lives, and using these programs to get what they want in the end was egregious. 

And as government shutdowns become more and more frequent, we cannot allow the government to keep weighing lives against each other in order for their own benefits. What’s next, public housing versus social security? Disaster relief aid versus student financial aid?

If this debate sets a precedent for future budget debates, every program is in trouble. 

Human lives aren’t bargaining chips for tax cuts or border walls. They also can’t be pitted against each other like gladiators in a coliseum. Our government needs to know that this should not be permitted, and we, as a people, do not approve. 

Sara Beth Bolin is a junior majoring in journalism, political science, and anthropology. Her column runs biweekly.