Politics

Menendez Claims Republicans Are Stripping Children’s Health Care … But He Did That

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Robert Donachie Capitol Hill and Health Care Reporter

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey claims Democrats are ardently fighting to keep children’s health insurance against a Republican Party that wants to strip it away.

“With skyrocketing healthcare premiums & prescription drug costs, we should be working together to improve access to affordable, quality healthcare Instead, we have to fight our own govt from stripping the basic right to healthcare from our children. #CHIP,” Menendez tweeted Tuesday.

Menendez and many of his Democratic colleagues voted not three months ago to claw back over $3 billion from the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in the $1.3 trillion March spending bill.

Members of Congress voted in late March to rescind $3.1 billion from the CHIP Contingency Fund and $3.6 billion in funds provided to states, totaling just under $7 billion. (RELATED: Didn’t Dems Vote To Rescind CHIP Funding In March?)

Crying foul about CHIP funding is odd when Congress already agreed to a lengthy program extension this year.

Lawmakers agreed to a 10-year extension CHIP funding in early February. The deal included $7 billion towards community health centers, $6 billion to deal with opioids and mental care and other provisions supported on a bipartisan basis.

Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan put forth an amendment in 2011 that called for the rescinding of $44 billion in unobligated funds–an amount three times the size of the administration’s proposal. The amendment won the support of 81 senators.

Menendez was one of the senators who voted for the large rescission, along with Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Dianne Feinstein of California, Chris Coons of Delaware, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Bill Nelson of Florida and Ron Wyden of Oregon.

Menendez, a man who has been at the center of one of the biggest political scandals since the 2016 election, is likely trying to toe the party line in order to keep his Senate seat in November — a midterm Senate seat that is increasingly looking like Republicans can snag.  (RELATED: Reid Asked Obama To Help Menendez Donor)

The New Jersey senator is only up four percentage points against the leading Republican challenger Bob Hugin. That is markedly down from April, when Monmouth University pegged Menendez with a strong 21 percentage point lead. Quinnipiac had Menendez up 17 points in March.

The scandal revolves around a Florida eye doctor and longtime friend of Menendez, Dr. Salomon Melgen, who lavished the senator with large campaign donations and held private fundraisers for him at his 6,500-square-foot home in North Palm Beach, Fla. Melgen did all of this in exchange for Menendez’s assistance in navigating government disputes.

The doctor was convicted of 67 counts of Medicare fraud and sentenced to well over a decade in prison in late April 2017. (RELATED: Florida Doctor Found Guilty Of 67 Counts Of Fraud)

The Senate Ethics Committee conducted a months-long investigation into the matter and found Menendez in violation of federal election and ethics laws in late April.

“The Committee has found that over a six-year period, you knowingly and repeatedly accepted gifts of significant value from Dr. Melgen without obtaining required Committee approval, and that you failed to publicly disclose certain gifts as required by Senate Rule and federal law,” the committee wrote in an April 26 letter to Menendez.

“Additionally, while accepting these gifts, you used your position as a Member of the Senate to advance Dr. Melgen’s personal and business interests. The Committee has determined that this conduct violated Senate Rules, federal law, and applicable standards of conduct,” the committee wrote.

The New Jersey senator is charged with repaying the “fair market value: of all “impermissible gifts not already repaid.”

While Menendez is charged with repaying the money, it does not appear he has a hard deadline for repayment.

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