Congressional leaders should stop using the vital federal Children’s Health Insurance Program as a bargaining chip and get it reauthorized.

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To understand the deep level to which Congress is now mired in dysfunction, look to health insurance for children of low-income families.

Both Democrats and Republicans representing Washington state express wholehearted support for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers children whose families earn just enough income not to qualify for Medicaid. But those lawmakers and their colleagues on both sides of the aisle can’t agree on a bill that would make sure nearly 9 million children, including close to 70,000 kids in Washington state, won’t lose access to health care.

Since the CHIP program expired on Sept. 30, both the House and the Senate have made some progress toward reauthorizing this popular program conceived in 1997 by U.S. Sens. Ted Kennedy, a Democrat, and Orrin Hatch, a Republican.

Lawmakers from this state say there are easily enough votes to pass a stand-alone bill that addresses just the CHIP program. And that’s the problem. Everything is a bargaining chip these days in Congress.

And political gain seems to be more important than children’s health in the other Washington. But not in the minds of parents, who are worried about what will happen if a child breaks his or her arm or ends up in the hospital with cancer or a dangerous infection.

For them, platitudes from lawmakers — heartfelt or not — are not enough. They need action, and their kids need health insurance.