Democrats lack backup plan with expanded child tax credit set to lapse

The expanded child tax credit, a signature accomplishment of President Biden’s first year in office, is set to lapse in a few days, and Democratic lawmakers acknowledge they don’t have a viable backup plan to extend the popular measure.

The expiration of the expanded tax credit, which was included in Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, will end monthly payments to the families of more than 60 million children. 

Without an extension of the expansion, monthly payments will end and the maximum annual credit amount will drop back to $2,000 per child. Additionally, a provision in the relief law will end that allows the lowest-income families to qualify for the full credit amount.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Thursday lamented the imminent expiration of the expanded credit as a major failure. 

“Anyone who thinks that we should cut that back and tell millions and millions of working parents that they’re not going to have the money they need to raise their children with dignity, I think that’s a terrible mistake,” he said. 

“If you ask millions of working parents about whether or not they need the help to raise their kids in these difficult times, they would say ‘yes,’” he added. 

Democrats had planned to include a one-year extension of the monthly payments and increased credit amount in their massive social spending and climate change package. They also planned to make the credit fully available to the lowest-income families permanently.

But that legislation will be postponed until January, if not longer, and may be in peril of failing entirely because Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has raised new objections over the core components of the Build Back Better Act. 

Manchin balked at including a one-year extension of the expanded child tax credit in the bill because he says it would mask the true cost of the proposal, as he suspects Congress would be under heavy pressure to renew it on a yearly basis.

Instead, the West Virginia senator is calling for the expanded tax credit to be extended for 10 years so voters know exactly how much it’s likely to cost. At the same time, he is insisting the entire Build Back Better Act not cost more than $1.75 trillion. Other Democratic senators say these demands are fundamentally incompatible. 

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said that the IRS has told his office that it needs an extension of the child tax credit expansion to be enacted by Dec. 28 in order for the agency to make a monthly payment on Jan. 15.

Some lawmakers are looking at options to extend the monthly payments separately while Senate Democrats continue to negotiate over the social spending package. However, key Democrats say that passing a standalone bill to extend the expanded child tax credit would be extremely difficult, given procedural hurdles.

The relief law increased the maximum credit amount for 2021 to $3,600 per child under the age of 6 and $3,000 for older children. 

For the past six months, families have been receiving monthly advance payments of the child tax credit of up to $300 for each child under age 6 and up to $250 for each child ages 6 to 17. The last monthly payment for the enhanced tax credit was delivered on Dec. 15. 

Wyden on Wednesday unsuccessfully attempted to add an amendment for a one-year tax credit extension to legislation designed to counter China’s genocide against Uyghur Muslims, with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) objecting. The Uyghur bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent without Wyden’s amendment on Thursday.

Wyden said that the bill, which would bar imports from China’s Xinjiang region unless companies could demonstrate that products were not produced with slave labor, was the only revenue vehicle available to the Senate. The Constitution requires that revenue bills originate in the House.

Wyden said he’s still looking for ways to prevent the monthly child tax credit payments from lapsing, but he has few, if any, real options following passage of the Uyghur bill. 

“I’m continuing to look for other ways in which to advance the child tax credit, but when you lose your one revenue bill, you’ve lost a lot of your good real estate for actually getting it done,” Wyden told reporters Thursday.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Finance panel, said he would support a standalone bill to extend the expanded child tax credit for 10 years but said that has no chance of getting 10 Republican votes to overcome a filibuster. 

“It’s not going to be easy to get it done. I’m comfortable with a 10-year extension but how do you [find] a path forward?” he asked. 

When asked about the prospect of offsetting the cost of a 10-year extension of the expanded child tax credit and paying for it by Wyden’s new proposal to tax the unrealized capital gains of billionaires, Cardin said that wouldn’t get bipartisan support. 

“We’re going to get 60 votes for that?” he asked incredulously. 

Cardin said putting a 10-year extension of the expanded credit in the Build Back Better Act is virtually impossible because it would increase the total cost of the bill by more than $1 trillion. 

“Then we have a much bigger package,” he added. “See, there’s always a problem.” 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Thursday afternoon noted that the next payment for the enhanced child tax credit wouldn’t go out until Jan. 15, if it’s extended, and argued there’s still time to work out a deal. 

“I’m sure there will be a debate about the enhanced portion of it,” he said, noting that Republicans have expressed “concern about the lack of a work requirement.” 

“Yeah, I think it will be discussed. We’ll see what happens when it actually gets to the cliff,” he said.

But Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.), a member of the Finance Committee, said there’s little Republican support for extending the beefed-up child tax credit.

“I don’t think our guys are interested in dealing with that,” he said. “That’s not something our members are interested in.”

The House has already left Washington for the year. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday dismissed the idea of the chamber passing a standalone bill on the child tax credit, saying the issue is “important leverage” in the debate around the Build Back Better Act (BBB).

“I don’t want to let anybody off the hook on the BBB to say, well we covered that one thing, so now the pressure is off,” she said during a press conference. “I think that that is really important leverage in the discussion on BBB, that the children and their families will suffer without that payment.”

Tags Ben Cardin Bernie Sanders Build Back Better Child tax credit Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Thune Marco Rubio Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Ron Wyden

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