A family values relief package — really

The underappreciated child credit, they wrote, “reduces poverty while fostering some of our nation’s most critical investments: those that parents make for their children.” And expanding it would have a large impact in stimulating the economy.

Their proposal, coming as the Republican-led Senate prepares, very belatedly, to engage on a new round of economic relief, points to how the next stimulus bill should be judged. Above all, does it do enough to lift up those facing the greatest hardship from the downturn, through the tax credits, an expansion of food stamps, renters’ assistance and other forms of relief?

Also: Does it continue to give expanded benefits to the unemployed? Does it include sufficient support for state and local governments facing a collapse in revenue? Does it finance the testing and tracing we need? And does it deal with the impact of the covid-19 crisis on our health-care systems, our voting system and those stranded without health ­coverage?

Yes, it will have to be a large and expensive piece of legislation.

This is a time when cynicism is amply justified by the behavior of the Trump administration and its Republican allies in Congress. One could be forgiven for wondering whether this conservative initiative might be used as a cover for slashing other needed measures — especially since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) shamefully dragged his feet on a new relief package, leaving it until the last moment.

The Democratic House passed its $3 trillion plan two months ago, yet McConnell has only finally stirred himself when key forms of relief from earlier packages — notably for the unemployed — are about to expire.

Democrats cannot let McConnell jam them by offering an inadequate proposal this week on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. One big danger: that the spending is timed to expire just before Inauguration Day 2021, even though the effects of the downturn will continue well into next year and beyond.

If former vice president Joe Biden wins in November, he could face immediate obstruction from Republicans. For now, they want to get themselves and Trump reelected. If Trump loses, the GOP will suddenly rediscover deficits as their all-purpose excuse for blocking Democratic initiatives.

But none of this should detract from the open letter signed by, among others, the writer J.D. Vance, Princeton professor Robert P. George and a group of AEI scholars including Michael R. Strain, Yuval Levin and Ramesh Ponnuru.

Progressives rightly take conservatives to task for preaching about “family values” without offering any concrete help for parents desperate to build better lives for their children. Here, happily, is one occasion when words and deeds intersect.

And the Child Tax Credit is the ideal policy for bringing together the left and the kinder-hearted right. Expanding the credit has been a major cause of a group of Democrats that includes Sens. Michael F. Bennet (Colo.), Cory Booker (N.J.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio), as well as Reps. Rosa L. DeLauro (Conn.), Suzan DelBene (Wash.), Richard E. Neal (Mass.) — and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.). Versions of it have also won endorsement from Republican Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah) and Josh Hawley (Mo.).

The House-passed Heroes Act provides for a more generous credit — $3,600 for children under the age of 6, and $3,000 for those aged 6 through 17 — and that should be the standard.

To get a sense of how powerful an instrument the child credit could be, Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy found that a credit at the House bill’s level would cut the child poverty rate among African Americans in half and reduce it by 42 percent for all U.S. children.

Consider: “Our nation’s unemployment rate is a devastating 11.1 percent — much higher than it was even during the Great Recession. The coming months will be very difficult for many Americans and their families as they try to regain their financial footing after an unforeseeable blow.”

That’s not liberal or Democratic propaganda. That’s from the conservative scholars’ letter. The moral logic is clear. Congress has an obligation to the nation’s most vulnerable families to go big again.

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