Family policy that could appeal to the right and the left
Congress, led by Democrats in the House and Senate, have passed President Biden’s approximately $1.8 trillion COVID stimulus package (it was scaled down in the Senate from $1.9 trillion) through the budget reconciliation process. There are now signs that — based on a recent ruling by the Senate parliamentarian — the Senate Democrats will be able to use the budget reconciliation process twice a year for the next three years. This would be a game changer. If it works, the Democrats will not have to jettison the filibuster in order to pass major legislation that concerns the budget.
Even if the Democrats are able to move forward this way, it would still be unwise to ignore the Republicans and independents around the country whom they still need to vote for them to keep their Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate in 2022.
An ideal model to pass legislation — which could be done as part of a budget reconciliation process or as a stand-alone bill — would give the Democrats license to pass legislation that serves their interests while at the same time affirming some of the interests of a large percentage of Republican and independent voters who may have voted for Mr. Trump in the recent election.
Here is an example:
Take a long-standing unresolved problem in American society. Since the 1970s, the left and the right have fought a cultural battle over women, work, child care and men’s responsibilities in the home. The left has argued for paid parental leave, larger child care subsidies and deductions, and public acknowledgment of the need for Dads to share housework equitably with Moms. In the last few years, the lead in Congress has been taken by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), especially via their FAMILY Act.
The United States is way behind other industrialized countries, especially in Europe, particularly when it comes to paid parental leave, as we are the only industrialized country without a federal program.
The left also wants families with two Moms and two Dads to get the same treatment as families with one Mom and one Dad, and they want single parent families to get affirmed just as much as two parent families.
The right has bemoaned the decline of the traditional nuclear family where the husband was the primary economic provider and the wife was the primary caretaker. In recent years, some on the right, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), have moved in the direction of supporting better child care support (or a higher child tax credit) from the federal government. Some Republicans also support paid parental leave, although with very different funding models than the Democrats — including drawing from your own future Social Security payments. This approach has been criticized precisely because it would weaken retirement security, and it is therefore unlikely to be part of a bipartisan solution that favors Democratic concepts.
We are not in a situation where both parties are completely at odds. There is in fact one issue that continues to be ignored, and that issue — if addressed head on — could become the kingmaker in the battle between the parties. The issue concerns couples who want one parent in the home in the early years of a child’s life, and a tax-credit for a stay-at-home parent — Mom or Dad — would address this issue.
The United States needs a family policy that offers all hard-working middle-class and working-class couples a choice when they have a baby, whether the wife has a baby or the couple adopts: paid-parental leave for six months at 60 percent wage replacement and 2.5 years of either major support for child care or a tax credit for a stay-at-home parent. Various caps would also be needed, since the very well-off should not qualify for these benefits.
So hard-working middle-class and working-class couples would get either paid leave plus child care or paid leave plus a tax credit for a stay at home parent.
This would put funding along the lines of $100 billion into the hands of new families, which is music to Democratic ears. And it would allow one parent to remain at home during a child’s most formative years, music to Republican ears.
Sen. Mitt Romney’s (R-Utah) Family Security Act, and parts of the new stimulus package are focused on eliminating child poverty, but they do not address the core working-class and especially middle-class concerns that this proposal would. Parents could also alternate, if they take the tax credit for a stay-at-home parent option. Single-parent families would presumably only get the child care option since the tax credit for stay at home parents would not be sufficient to support the parent and the child.
Some will charge that this proposes to ask the Democrats to give up a value they have held dear, namely providing equal opportunities to American young mothers to stay in the workforce and pursue their careers; yet, the Democrats would actually be giving American young mothers equal opportunities to pursue full-time motherhood in the first three years of their child’s life.
It is thus — ultimately — an equal opportunity argument, because it gives young mothers an equal opportunity to stay in the workforce or be a full-time caretaker in the first three years of their child’s life.
Due to the pandemic crisis, according to Zero to Three, 40 percent of women claim they have had to stop working or scale down their jobs in order to take care of their children. For couples with children three and under, this proposal would provide funding for child care for those mothers who do not want to leave the workforce. For couples with children older than three, a different child care funding stream would be needed.
This could be the perfect bipartisan policy that could help members of Congress work together to support working families.
It’s a pro-family policy that addresses a massive tension in American society — both economic and cultural. The time is now to face the tension and pass legislation to resolve it.
Dave Anderson is the editor of “Leveraging: A Political, Economic, and Societal Framework” (Springer, 2014). He is also the author of “Youth04: Young Voters, the Internet, and Political Power” (W.W. Norton & Company, 2004) and co-editor of “The Civic Web: Online Politics and Democratic Values” (Rowman and Littlefield, 2003). He has taught at George Washington University, the University of Cincinnati, and Johns Hopkins University. He was a candidate in the 2016 Democratic Primary in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District. Contact him at email@example.com.