50 years later, the culture wars debate over the child care crisis has barely budged


In 1971, President Richard Nixon vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have laid the groundwork for a national child care system, claiming he would have sided the government with community-based approaches to education. children. [and] against the family-centered approach. “

Fifty years later, with President Joe Biden making subsidized child care for low- and middle-income families a major part of his legislative agenda, the socially conservative argument against his plan sounds much like the an assistant to Nixon Pat Buchanan was doing when he wrote that veto message.

Senator Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Argued that Biden’s prescription would “make women rely on the federal government to organize their lives” in an interview with the Fox Business Network shortly after Biden announced his plan last month. In a tweet, she compared the proposal to Soviet-style childcare.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Said Biden’s plan amounted to a Democratic attempt at social engineering – getting Americans to “use the kinds of childcare arrangements that the Democrats want them to continue ”.

Yet in the half-century since more than 50 Congressional Republicans supported a national child care system, marriage and birth rates in the United States have fallen to record highs – as some in the party consider it an existential problem. With a unique pandemic exposing and exacerbating childcare problems in the country, a handful of conservatives have come forward with proposals that would expand government support to parents in an effort to promote the traditional family.

Brad Wilcox, a sociology professor at the University of Virginia and a visiting scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said Republicans who don’t see the urgency around the issue don’t realize that “we’re in a new moment here with record levels of fertility, record low in marriage. “

“And I think a lot of ordinary Americans are wondering how they allow themselves to have kids, raise kids, and juggle work and family in the 21st century,” he said.

Biden’s U.S. plan for families, which wouldn’t impose the form of child care Americans use, would go well beyond a $ 225 billion investment in child care. It would also create universal pre-K and national paid family leave programs and extend until 2025 the increase in the child tax credit and the expansion of its Covid-19 stimulus plan adopted this year. Last Monday, the Biden administration announced that approximately 39 million U.S. families will begin receiving direct credit payments in July.

There are three GOP counter-proposals, and Republicans have yet to come together around just one.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, seeks to replace the child tax credit, already temporarily expanded with Biden’s Covid-19 relief bill, with a greater advantage financed by the consolidation of other rights. Another, of Senator Josh Hawley, R-Mo., Would offer a tax credit of $ 6,000 for single parents and a credit of $ 12,000 for married parents who jointly file and have children under the age of 13. come The senses. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Who offers a slightly larger extension of the child tax credit than what Biden proposed; the benefit would be directly related to work, unlike Biden’s.

Hawley, Lee, and Rubio have all been outspoken in recent years about the need to promote the nuclear family through policy. Last yearLee, then chairman of the Joint Economic Committee, released a report outlining “policy approaches to ensure more children are raised by two happy married parents.” Meanwhile, promoting proposals to expand the child tax credit and offer paid family leave during his 2016 presidential campaign, Rubio said in a primary debate that his efforts were aimed at ” strengthen the country’s most important institution, the family “.

Terry Schilling, executive director of the American Principles Project, a conservative think tank focused on social issues, said Tories have long sought to spur decline wedding and birth-rate with their child care plans.

Schilling, who prefers Hawley’s plan, said there was also an electoral argument in favor of Republicans, pointing to the 2018 poll supported by his group, which revealed that married voters were much more likely to vote Republican than those who were divorced or who lived together or who had never married.

“The goal here for the right, and for the country, in reality, is how to enable parents to spend more time with their families and children,” he said, adding that daycare subsidized by the government would lead to “more people putting off having children and more and more people delaying spending time with their children.”

Above the debate are traditional ideas about what constitutes a family, as well as gender norms and the role of women inside and outside the home. There are many more women in the workforce today than when the last attempt at comprehensive childcare legislation was attempted in 1971. The economic situation has also changed.

Brigid Schulte, director of the work-family program at non-partisan think tank New America, said the problem for Republicans seeking to portray Biden’s plan as an anti-traditional family is that middle-class life is is increasingly difficult to achieve in single-income households. .

“Because for a very long time there was this opinion that if women worked, it was a choice,” she said. “There was this narrative choice, so if you choose to work, you were kind of a bad mother. As if you have a choice to stay at home.

“And I think that economic factor has been overlooked for this kind of narrative of cultural wars around shame, stigma and choice, which has been really pushed forward by those with more conservative views who want that” traditional family, ”” she said.

Schulte said not a single method child care is preferred by the majority of Americans, adding that no group of parents should be penalized or have their needs unmet.

“There are a whole bunch of people in this country who have a very specific idea of ​​what families should be like,” she said. “And if this is the way they choose to form their families, this is America – you should have this opportunity. But that’s it. Just because it’s your choice, it’s not the choice everyone would make. “

A Biden administration official said the GOP’s proposals do not match the economic reality many people face because they are more focused on households with stay-at-home parents.

“We think it’s a positive thing that they recognize that families with children need extra supports,” the official said. “Having said that, the President has made it clear that this is not the time for half measures.”

A poll has shown that Biden’s family plan enjoys broad support. A investigation this month from progressive company Data for Progress find that 60% of voters likely support the childcare proposals in Biden’s family package. A Last month’s Yahoo News / YouGov poll found that 60 percent of Americans – including 41 percent of Republicans – support increased grants to reduce child care costs.

In a recent interview, Rubio expressed his opposition to Biden’s proposal in terms of high price, less in terms of social impact. He said it was a political area he has been interested in for years.

“I reject the idea that the more money you spend on something, the more you care,” he said, adding: “So do I think there is room for compromise? “There are. Except for the moment, sort of the battle lines are“ if you don’t spend as much as we want you to spend on it, then you don’t really care about this problem. ”And that is. the intellectually dishonest position. “

The fact that the debate has progressed so rapidly after years of neglect has encouraged those on both sides who have been listening to the issues. Nothing else has accelerated it like the pandemic, which has exacerbated existing problems in the child care system.

Biden cited the lack of childcare options as one of the main reasons for recent disappointing job gains. According to a recent Census office report, the number of mothers with school-aged children who were out of work at the start of this year rose by 1.4 million from 2020, though a study co-authored by the president’s former economic adviser Barack Obama revealed that child care was not a determining factor in maintaining low employment.

Recent events have “eliminated the lie that [child care] is an individual problem and has revealed how much of a societal problem it is, how urgent it is for the well-being of children, ”said Kirsten Swinth, professor of history at Fordham University and author of “Feminism’s Forgotten Fight: The Unfinished Struggle for Work and Family”.

After 50 years, she said, the current moment is the closest for the United States to make progress.

“This is urgent for the well-being and equality of women,” she said. “It is urgent that households can earn money. They have to put food on the table and pay the mortgage. And it is urgent for society, because it benefits our children and because it allows people to work in a way that contributes to our economy. “


About Christopher Easley

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