The success or failure of President Joe Biden’s legislative platform could depend on a single senator from a mountainous state who has idiosyncratic views and is not particularly popular in his own party.
That’s right: Biden’s future may be in Mitt Romney’s hands. The Utah senator introduced a bill last February that would take over a key element of the president’s social policy – the child tax credit, which was part of this year’s US bailout and would be extended by moribund legislation Build Back Better – permanent.
The president is expected to enthusiastically support Romney’s bill. Yes, that would require a level of daring not characteristic of this White House, and the passage would still be a long shot. But it could work well. Call it the daring of the last best hope.
Since the start of the year, it has become clear that Senator Joe Manchin was one of the key votes (if not the key vote) when adopting Build Back Better. Yet even now the latest version of the bill is at odds not only with its stated legislative objectives, but with its fundamental philosophy.
Manchin wants a streamlined bill focused on helping the most vulnerable – without discouraging work, pushing up inflation or increasing the deficit. Build Back Better is chock-full of gadgets designed to gain Congressional Budget Office validation, spends hundreds of billions of dollars fixing tax loopholes for high-income Americans, and provides no permanent funding for its mishmash of programs theoretically designed to help the poor but structured. to serve Democratic constituencies over the long term.
Fortunately, however, there is a bill that fits Manchin’s demands. It is also expanding and permanently funding the leading poverty reduction initiative in Build Back Better. Romney’s Family Security Act, in a rare feat in today’s hyperpartisan environment, has won praise from across the political spectrum.
He achieves this by integrating competing visions from the start. It offers family allowances to expectant parents four months before their child’s due date, for example – managing to be both pro-life and pro-choice. It provides both government support for unborn children and expands the options available to single working mothers.
Additionally, by linking benefits directly to children through the Social Security Administration – rather than to taxpayers through the Internal Revenue Service – the plan supports both single-income families with a dedicated stay-at-home parent and families on the margins. economy. , trying to make ends meet.
Romney’s plan would also provide a flat, universal benefit to all families. This is different from the current structure of the Child Tax Credit, which is a classic trapezoid with both an introduction (designed to encourage work) and a removal (designed to add progressivity). To allay Liberal worries about progressivity and Conservative worries about disincentives, Romney’s proposal would reform the working income tax credit, which would become a pure subsidy for low-income workers, regardless of how many. dependents they are claiming.
Romney would pay for these reforms in large part by ending both the state and local deduction and the Temporary Help for Needy Families program, the successor to what was once called welfare. These two programs – one for the rich, one for the poor – look good on paper but in practice are both ineffective (economically) and ineffective (politically).
Unlike these programs, a universal child benefit would not discourage poor parents from working for fear of losing their benefits. It would also not encourage affluent parents to move to more economically segregated municipalities in order to maximize their deductions.
As 2021 draws to a close, the President faces crises on multiple fronts – a virus resurfacing, inflation lingering, a hectic party, to name a few. Admittedly, embracing the idea of a Republican senator will not solve any of these problems directly. But it’s a really good idea. And if the two sides are ever to work together, which Biden has vowed to try to do, then they need to focus more on good faith efforts such as Romney’s Family Safety Act.
Karl W. Smith is a union columnist.