Remember how you could count on the beginning of December to augur a month’s worth of feel-good stories that both filled the void left by the dearth of hard news that occurs during the holiday season and helped reinforce a sense of community and goodwill?

Yeah, me neither. That is, until this story went viral.

It’s a great story, and it pushes so many of the right buttons. But it’s tough to escape the feeling that so much of its success and appeal is because of the paucity of cockle-warming copy out there right now. Maybe those pieces have been written, laid out and edited, and are just waiting for homepages to stop doing their worst impressions of police blotters so they can get a few column inches to call their own during the most wonderful time of the year.

For too many families with children under the age of 18, though, there is precious little to be of good cheer about. That’s because in addition to everything else Congress has failed to achieve this year, it somehow didn’t get around to re-authorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program, also known as CHIP. Not in September, when the deadline to renew came and went, and certainly not in the ensuing months. Not now, when state after state is sounding the alarm over rapidly dwindling coffers.

That’s not to say that politicians are unaware that the legislation that has protected millions of children – roughly 9 million in 2017 – born of bipartisan cooperation between Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts is going to leave those children without a safety net. Why, just last week, Hatch himself said this to the Washington Post: “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, and you can look at the rest of the bill for the more and more spending.”

Hatch’s ability to dissemble with such brio is positively Conwayesque. Truthfully – that’s still a real word, right? – his glibly mendacious assessment is just the bilious song of the canary in the reopened coal mine. No less a budget hawk™ than Speaker of the House Paul Ryan confirmed the open secret that allowing CHIP to lapse was just the opening act for a full-frontal assault on entitlement programs that can only be “saved” by killing people through gutting them.

At this point, it seems like Joseph Welch’s burning question should get its own emoji to save us the trouble of continually embedding, linking and quoting it.

 

WINNERS

Bob Mellow: Whoever said “crime does not pay” obviously never spent time in the state Legislature. The former state Senate leader, who was jailed over fraud charges in 2012, narrowly won a state pension board vote to restore his $245,000 (!) annual pension. Nice work if you can get it.

Jeanne McNeill: The widow of Rep. Dan McNeill, who died in September, won the special election to replace him in Harrisburg.

Unemployment compensation center call workers: In a W for the commonwealth’s unemployed as well, the state House passed a bill to fund the system for another four years, with the Senate likely to support it as well, thus ending a yearlong standoff that included laying off hundreds of people whose jobs were to help people who were laid off.

 

LOSERS

Daryl Metcalfe: This whole column could be about the homophobic state Representative’s indefensible anti-gay tirade against fellow State Government Committee member, Rep. Matt Bradford. And about his doubling down on said comments. And about House leadership’s use of false equivalencies to elide any responsibility to enact any discipline whatsoever. No need to watch the video of Metcalfe’s self-immolation: you’re sure to see it in heavy rotation next year.

Valerie Kean Staab: Surprising absolutely no one, the state Democratic Party adviser tendered her resignation following a sustained firestorm over her posts on social media victim-shaming women who were sexually abused and harassed.

Women’s reproductive rights: What better stalking horse than what would be the nation’s most restrictive abortion bill to tie Gov. Wolf to a position he has already staked out? At least, that seems to be the reasoning behind the House Health Committee’s rapid-fire advancement of Senate Bill 3. It remains to be seen how showcasing an increasingly popular incumbent’s commitment to women’s reproductive rights during a sustained groundswell of political engagement by that same demographic makes for good strategy.