by Andrew Trunsky
As tens of millions of American families across the country began to see the second round of monthly cash payments appear in their bank accounts Friday, Republicans in Congress remained oddly quiet.
The checks were the result of an expansion of the Child Tax Credit (CTC), which was part of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package President Joe Biden signed into law in March. While every Republican in Congress voted against the bill, the credit itself is overwhelmingly popular among registered Republicans and Americans overall, creating a rift between reliable conservative voters and the GOP lawmakers who represent them.
“The disconnect is enormous,” Samuel Hammond, the director of poverty and welfare policy at the centrist Niskanen Center, told the Daily Caller News Foundation, noting how Republicans in office and think tanks are “from a different time” than their voter bases. “I hear a lot from my conservative friends about how they’re ecstatic about the expanded child benefits.”
That excitement has not spread to Republicans in Congress, even as CTC supporters argue it fits neatly within conservatism and experts say it could cut child poverty in half. The provision allots $300 monthly payments for each child under 6 and $250 for each child under 18, meaning that a family with three kids under 6 could receive almost $11,000 annually, depending on its income. In previous years the credit was paid annually and maxed out at $200 per child, meaning the same family would have been limited to $6,000, and lower income families would have received a smaller check.
Conservative support for the tax credit’s expansion, and for direct cash relief more generally, stems from the idea that giving Americans money directly instead of relying on bureaucratic government arms is more efficient, more beneficial and far less intrusive. Instead of giving tailored aid through vast government programs that limit what families can spend it on, advocates say, giving cash allows for families to spend it on what they may need most at any given time, all while bypassing federal bureaucracy.
“Instead of building this giant program … we can cut out the bureaucracy and cut out the red tape,” Steve Anderson, a Republican activist from Illinois, told the DCNF in a phone interview. “The government’s spending money anyway, and it’s not spending it efficiently. If it’s going to [spend], it might as well do it in a way that actually helps its citizens.”
That idea has not resonated among the vast majority of Republican lawmakers. In December, GOP senators led by then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell repeatedly blocked $2,000 checks from being included in the supplemental stimulus package, calling them a “universal cash giveaway” and “socialism for rich people,” even as former President Donald Trump urged them to vote in favor of the checks. When Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, who supported them, teamed up with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist, to try and force a vote on $2,000 relief checks in December, they were blocked twice by Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who called it a “shotgun approach” and lamented what they would do to the debt.
Days later, Democrats unexpectedly flipped both of Georgia’s Senate seats, giving them a 50-50 majority with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote. While multiple factors likely contributed to the dual upsets, Democrats’ promise to pass $2,000 relief checks if they secured the majority certainly helped in the campaigns’ final days.
Republicans also objected to the expanded Child Tax Credit once it passed, criticizing how the aid wasn’t specifically tied to the pandemic and asserting that it would be harmful to the country going forward.
“The new CTC and other provisions in [the American Rescue Plan] fail to learn from lessons of the past, are not targeted to pandemic relief, and risk the loss of billions of taxpayer dollars in fraudulent and improper payments,” Reps. Mike Kelly and Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, wrote in a joint letter to the Biden administration in April.
Others in the party simply believe that government spending beyond the bare necessities is is harmful to the country, even if it is going directly to families who stand to benefit.
“We have no rainy day fund. We have no savings account,” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said last December as Congress debated the stimulus bill. “Congress has spent all of the money. Congress spent all of the money a long time ago.”
While Paul, who has voted against every spending, defense and coronavirus relief bill, is one of the most anti-spending lawmakers in the country, he articulated then what many Republicans have fallen back on now. “The monster spending bill presented today is not just a ‘deficit’s don’t matter disaster,’” he then said. “It is everything Republicans say they don’t believe in.”
Families Are The Focus
Advocates for the Child Tax Credit have asserted that it is not only the best way to help families with kids, but to promote marriage and encourage American couples to start a family in the first place. And among Republicans in Congress, few have been as outspoken on the issue as Utah Sen. Mitt Romney.
The moderate Republican and 2012 presidential nominee unveiled the Family Security Act in February, which mirrored many aspects of Biden’s CTC but would raise monthly payments for children under six from $300 to $350. The stipend would phase out for married couples earning $400,000 annually and $200,000 for single parents, meaning that the overwhelming majority of American families would qualify.
In a statement, Romney said his plan would not only pull three million children out of poverty “immediately,” but would do so without adding to the deficit.
Hawley two months later unveiled his Parent Tax Credit, which would have given parents working at least 20 hours a week with young children up to $6,000 annually. Married couples with both husband and wife working would have been eligible for double.
“Starting a family and raising children should not be a privilege only reserved for the wealthy,” Hawley said at the time. “Millions of working people want to start a family and would like to care for their children at home, but current policies do not respect these preferences.”
Both the Republicans’ plans and Biden’s Child Tax Credit, while different, all seek to remedy one underlying problem that faces the majority of Americans across the country: that having kids and raising a family has become harder and more expensive. The challenge facing families was reflected in recent census data, which showed that the last decade had the slowest growth of any in American history except for the 1930s, during the height of the Great Depression.
There are few signs that the decline is expected to reverse this coming decade. Nearly 20% of millennials said that the coronavirus pandemic would delay them having kids in one Morning Consult poll from September, while almost 60% said that it was too expensive to raise children in the first place.
“It’s not only the practical matter of food on the table, but the high stress levels in low-income households from having to constantly worry about paying [bills], that takes a toll,” Galen Carey, the head of government relations at the National Association of Evangelicals, told the DCNF. He added how expanding the Child Tax Credit served as a way to recognize the benefits — economic and otherwise — that effective parenting brings to the country.
“[The credit] recognizes the critical work parents do in raising the next generation of leaders, of workers, of taxpayers, church members and more,” he said. “The human race wouldn’t be where we are at all if we didn’t have parents.”
Here To Stay?
While polling has shown the Child Tax Credit’s expansion to be popular, with one survey from March indicating that 65% of Americans — and over half of Republicans — supported at least some direct aid for families with young kids, the expansion adopted in March only runs through the end of 2021.
Democrats are attempting to make the expansion permanent in their proposed $3.5 trillion budget, but that plan still has many arduous obstacles to overcome before reaching Biden’s desk. And despite the larger credit’s overall popularity, a Morning Consult poll from July found that just 55% of Democrats and 16% of Republicans backed making it permanent.
Despite the decrease in support, advocates are confident that the expansion enacted in March is the beginning of something more permanent, and not just the result of the pandemic.
“I do,” Carey answered point blank when asked if he thought the expanded credit was here to stay. He argued not only that its wide application made it politically difficult for lawmakers to scrap in the future, but that support for it was only likely to increase as families felt the benefit of hundreds of additional dollars in their bank accounts each month.
“Once a benefit has started it’s hard to take it away,” he said. “Especially if it’s proven to be very useful.”
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