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Santorum: How to get family policy right for working families

Greg Nash

Americans have a diminishing confidence in the government’s ability to solve problems. And paradoxically, it is that distrust of government that provides a unique opportunity for the government, now led by conservatives, to solve problems — especially those related to family policy.

Last year, then-candidate Donald Trump campaigned on an America First agenda. It was a message Americans were eager to hear. Trump’s stunning victory in November occurred because voters overwhelmingly endorsed his America First platform.

{mosads}Americans in Stark, Sandusky, Ashtabula, Portage and Luzerne counties — to name only a few Democrat-stronghold in Ohio and Pennsylvania that President Obama once dominated — embraced Trump’s message and voted in November by large margins for the Republican candidate. 

 

If Republicans hope to make that flip in those counties more permanent, rather than a one-off electoral abnormality, they must champion policies that directly help hardworking Americans. As I argued in my 2014 book Blue Collar Conservatives, for too long, policymakers have overlooked the unique needs of America’s blue-collar, working-class families. President Trump’s victory was due, in no small part, because he so adeptly tailored his message to this segment of the population.

In his first six months in office, Trump has made good on many of his campaign promises that put America — and American workers — first. Hardworking families have been the direct beneficiaries of those kept promises. On immigration, trade policies and the Dakota Access pipeline, Trump is prioritizing American workers and families. 

But much still needs to be done, particularly in the sphere of family policy, which is a unique nexus with direct impact on both families and the economy.

A pervasive problem that poses so many challenges to working families is how to provide for child care, from the moment the child is born and throughout the child’s life.

One policy change that would provide immediate relief to those with lower-to-moderate income is expanding the Child Tax Credit, as proposed by Marco Rubio and embraced by the White House. Currently at $1,000 per child, this would increase to $2,500 and be partially refundable. There is simply no other policy that would have a bigger impact on working families.

Another area Republicans should address is paid parental leave, which is essential so mothers and fathers can take time off from work following the birth or adoption of a child. In his groundbreaking book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, Harvard professor Robert Putnam notes that “[h]ealthy infant brain development requires connecting with caring, consistent adults,” and he goes on to explore the long-term economic benefits for society of early bonding and interactions with parents who are engaged — reading, talking, interacting — with infants at the earliest point in their lives.

According to a recent Pew Research survey, a vast majority of Americans understand the critical need for parents to be fully engaged with their children at the earliest stages of life and they are supportive of policies that facilitate that engagement, including paid parental leave.

Americans overwhelmingly believe employers, rather than the federal government, should pay for paid parental leave. But in order to offset that cost to employers, Americans also want the federal government to put in place policies that incentivize employers to take the lead on creating pro-family policies. Fully 87 percent of respondents to the Pew survey “strongly favor” or “somewhat favor” tax credits to employers providing paid leave, including parental leave. That is a sizeable majority of Americans, and Republicans should take note.

As the authors of the Pew study write: “In general, the public has a more positive view of policies that incentivize employers or employees rather than those that create a new government fund to finance and administer the benefit.” And therein lies the opportunity for conservatives to develop pro-family, pro-workforce policies.

Conservatives are the thought leaders when it comes to policies that strengthen families and allow parents to remain in the workforce. We also are the thought leaders when it comes to policies that propel our economy forward. There is a way to grow the benefits for hard-working families in times of need in a way that grows the economy — without growing the federal government.

Trump’s presidency affords conservatives the opportunity to showcase not only our commitment to American families, but also our thoughtful approach to doing so.

Rick Santorum is a former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, presidential candidate and chairman of Patriot Voices


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Donald Trump family leave GOP Marco Rubio Rick Santorum

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