Why Mitt Romney’s family plan failed so quickly

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Republicans aren’t exactly pumping up new political innovations these days. If anything motivates Republicans in Congress, it’s to regain a majority in 2022 and appease ex-President Donald Trump. “I’m one hundred percent focused on this administration,” Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said earlier this month, succinctly capturing the spirit of Capitol Hill.

All the more reason why Senator Mitt Romney’s plan to send money directly to parents raising children is such an anomaly. If you missed Romney’s proposal, it’s no surprise. He released it on February 4, the day after House Republicans voted to retain Liz Cheney as a third-tier caucus member despite his apostasy from condemning Trump (a vote of confidence that did not hold; Republicans l ‘were deported three months later). The civil war in the House has saturated the news, but it is not every day that a Republican who had previously been a presidential candidate touts an idea that resolutely breaks with the orthodoxy of the party and, in addition to this invites a Democratic president to solve a problem through this strange old practice: bipartisan collaboration. At first, the White House seemed intrigued. On the day Romney released his proposal, President Joe Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain sent a tweet calling the idea “An encouraging sign that bipartisan action to reduce child poverty IS possible.” So why is it blocked?

Romney’s Family Security Act is simple in its design. It provides for an annual cash payment totaling $ 4,200 for households with children up to age 5 and $ 3,000 for those with children ages 6 to 17. It caps at $ 15,000 per year. Biden has a larger plan that shares an important goal with Romney: to get money directly from households with children. They do it a little differently, with Biden proposing in his US plan for families to extend a strengthened child tax credit until 2025. The allowance is worth $ 3,600 per year for households with children under 6; and $ 3,000 for older children up to the age of 17. Neither plan requires parents to work to receive the money.

A strange thing happened when Romney released his proposal: Almost everyone liked it (with a few notable exceptions, which we’ll get to in a moment). Liberals, Conservatives and academics have all praised it. Matt Bruenig, president of the People’s Policy Project, a progressive think tank, called this an improvement over Biden’s plan. Kathryn Edwards, a Rand Corporation economist who specializes in female labor issues, told me Romney and White House plans “would do more for child poverty and basic needs of families. than probably anything in the last 20 years. “

No one can deny the need. Compared to other wealthy countries, US aid to families is meager. A UNICEF study published in 2019 examined the extent to which dozens of wealthy countries, including the United States, offered “family-friendly” policies. Sweden, Norway and Iceland topped the list, while the United States was the only one without a national paid parental leave program. Halfway through Barack Obama’s presidency, one of his former economic advisers, Jared Bernstein, studied the extent to which tax and social policies in 20 rich countries had reduced poverty by the mid-2000s. government policies swept away by the system, America’s poverty rate ranked highest at 17 percent; Sweden and Denmark rank the lowest, at 5 percent. (Bernstein is now a member of Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers). European countries “have much lower child poverty rates than the United States,” Mark Rank, professor of welfare at Washington University in St. Louis, told me. “One of the main reasons is that they have these programs. For the United States, considering this is pretty drastic. It really goes against the way we often try to fight poverty. “

And that may explain a harsh reality on Romney’s plan: It’s not going anywhere. He has virtually no chance of getting the 60 votes required by Senate rules. The White House now seems to be wary of it. More than three months after Klain’s encouraging tweet, little action has taken place, bipartisan or otherwise. Romney told me he had a brief conversation about the proposal with Steve Ricchetti, the White House adviser. “They have other priorities right now, apparently,” Romney said. “But hopefully it gets to the top, and we’ll have a chance to sit down and see if we can find something together.”

The White House declined to make Ricchetti available for comment, instead sending me to two other officials, neither of whom had spoken with Romney or a member of his staff. They expressed doubts that Romney’s allowance was sufficient to meet a family’s needs. And they criticized a feature that Romney sees as a selling point. Unlike the extension of the Biden Child Tax Credit, which would expire in four years, Romney’s plan would be permanent. He proposed a series of spending cuts to offset the $ 254 billion cost. One of them would cut a $ 16.5 billion program called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) that sends block grants to states to disburse. Another would save $ 25 billion by eliminating a national and local tax deduction that is especially popular in high-tax blue states. From a White House perspective, Romney gives with one hand, takes with the other. “We don’t want this to be a zero-sum game, and [Romney’s] proposal would be a zero-sum game for many low-income families because of the compensation he chose to pay for his program, ”one of the Biden administration officials told me, speaking under cover. anonymity to speak more freely.

The political criticism of the White House seems dubious. Romney’s plan would reduce child poverty by a third, according to Rank, co-author of the book Misunderstood: What America Is Wrong About Poverty. In addition, many problems plague the TANF program. The funding level of $ 16.5 billion has not budged for 25 years, which means the money has not kept up with inflation. Money has also not always reached the people who need it most. A report released last year by Stateline, a non-partisan Pew Charitable Trusts, found that “some states spend large amounts of TANF money on programs used by families who are not in poverty, such as preschool and university scholarships for middle class students ”. Regarding the national and local tax deduction, the benefits anyway mainly go to the wealthier families.

Prominent Republicans are even colder towards Romney’s idea. A few have created their own family assistance plans — no more tax credits tied to work demands. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who adopted one of these plans, told me, “I don’t know how many Republican votes there would be for a single direct payment program, which I think doesn’t is not the direction we want to take. “

None of this bodes well for a truly bipartisan negotiation, even if a compromise seems close at hand. After all, the White House and Romney aren’t moving “in the opposite direction,” Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at Third Way, a center-left think tank, told me. “They both drive on the same highway. There is room for some of the things Romney talks about. He talks about a vast simplification, which is appealing. The taxes of a poor worker are more complicated than my taxes.

Romney could possibly come up with another way to pay for his plan, if the White House really finds his suggestions distasteful. Politicians tend to say they don’t like negotiating in the media, but, hey, let’s try. “If there is any part of it [Romney’s proposed cuts] the White House would like to maintain, “Romney told me as he left the Senate chamber,” it is certainly possible, and we will find other means of payment.

Mr. President, what do you say?

Maybe the roadblock is not so much the details of Romney’s plan but the juggernaut that still controls the GOP from his exile in Mar-a-Lago. Romney remains an isolated figure within his party, anathema to the grassroots for voting to oust Trump in the two impeachment trials. Closing a deal with Romney brings precisely one voice: that of Romney. It is doubtful that he can lock anyone else up. McConnell is focusing on tanking Biden polls. Which means that when it comes to smart policy making, the GOP is essentially leaderless. Despite all of Biden’s talk about bipartisanship, he may have already concluded that his best way to push through anything to help families is “reconciliation,” the parliamentary decision that allows the Senate to pass bills. of law with a simple majority vote. If so, the White House doesn’t really need Romney or a Republican to join us. “What Senator Romney has proposed is something that Biden could absolutely work with him on,” Ryan Williams, spokesperson for Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, told me. administration, they are not serious about it. Given Senator Romney’s low level of awareness, there is no indication that they are interested.


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