Does bipartisanship matter more than helping kids?
By E.J. Dionne Jr.,
Ever notice how often Washington commentary privileges generalities over specifics, and politics over substance? The conversation comparing President Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic rescue package to the $618 billion offering from 10 Senate Republicans is a prizeworthy entry in the abstraction sweepstakes.
We’re hearing more about “bipartisanship,” “unity” and “compromise” than about what the two proposals do and don’t do, who might be helped by one approach and ignored or hurt by the other.
The list of what Republicans chose not to finance is long. Unlike Biden’s plan, theirs includes no provisions to expand health coverage; no rental assistance; no broad-based aid to state and local governments. And it extends special help to the unemployed only through June rather than through September.
Argue all you want about spending and deficits and big government, but please don’t pretend that what Biden has proposed is some sort of left-wing craziness. The stuff the Republicans chose to cut is compassionate common sense. And if you don’t want to help local governments, consider how much the economy has already been hurt by layoffs of over 1 million public employees.
Another missing piece in the GOP package is worth special attention. One of the single most important and constructive components of Biden’s package is the expansion of the child tax credit. Why? Because the credit “reduces poverty while fostering some of our nation’s most critical investments: those that parents make for their children.”
Those words come not from some piece of socialist propaganda but from an admirable statement last summer by a group of conservative luminaries organized by the Institute for Family Studies. (Yes, this is a pro-family idea.) They urged that an expanded child credit be part of any stimulus and relief package.
For a year, Biden would increase the credit from $2,000 to $3,600 for children under 6, and to $3,000 for children ages 6 through 17. As my Brookings Institution colleague David Wessel noted, Biden “would make it ‘fully refundable,’ meaning that low-income families would get the full amount even if they don’t owe any income taxes.” The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that Biden’s plan would help 27 million children whose families don’t currently have enough income to get the full credit.
It could cut child poverty in half — a good reason for this policy to continue after the pandemic is over.
If Biden deserves high marks, so does a trio of Democratic senators — Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Cory Booker (N.J.) and Michael F. Bennet (Colo.) — who have made the child credit their cause and pushed for its inclusion in the relief plan.
Booker, for one, is frustrated by the tenor of the debate. “When we discuss these policy issues,” he told me, “we sort of drain the humanity out of the discussion, and I think that is to our own detriment because it is easy to reduce it into a left versus right, Republican versus Democrat, without any understanding of the people, Republican and Democrat and independent . . . whose lives we’re really discussing.”
Instead, he said, “it begins to become a conversation about the number itself, as opposed to its measurable impact on the economy.”
Bennet described a visit he made to an early-childhood center in Rifle, Colo., where a mother told him: “I work so I can have health insurance, and every single penny that I make goes to pay for this early-childhood center so I can work.”
Even before the pandemic, Bennet said in an interview, “that is the triangle that so many Coloradans, so many Americans were in.”
“It’s no child’s fault that they’re born into poverty,” he said. “And when you’ve got the lack of social mobility that we have in this country, which again also is not the fault of working people in this country, you’ve got to make some adjustments. . . . If you have voted for the Trump tax cut for the wealthiest people in the country, how can you be against a middle-class tax cut in the middle of a pandemic?”
Bennett is exactly the opposite of a hyperpartisan. Indeed, he worked with Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) on an earlier version of a child tax credit proposal. He said it was “nice to see a president have his first meeting in the White House be a meeting with senators from the other party” and observed of the Republicans’ plan: “I believe it was offered in good faith.” But he also calls things as he sees them, so he added: “The package they proposed doesn’t come anywhere close to meeting the moment.”
So, yes, Democrats should keep engaging with Republicans, but they must be ready to pass Biden’s larger relief plan with or without their votes. That mother in Rifle, Colo., matters a whole lot more than a media talking head obsessed with bipartisanship.
Read more: The Post’s View: President Biden is right to give bipartisanship a chance. Republicans must follow. Catherine Rampell: It’s not progressive to give money to the rich David Ignatius: Biden’s surprisingly successful first two weeks James Downie: Republicans’ blundering attempt at bipartisanship Dana Milbank: Has Mitch McConnell been struck by a Jewish space laser?