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A public policy blog from AEI
Congress is very unpopular right now, with a job approval rating of just 15.7% according to the RealClearPolitics average. With so little getting done in Washington, limited faith in our legislative body is unsurprising. And things won’t get any easier. When the members return from their August recess, they face an impending debt ceiling and budget showdown, another possible go at a health care bill, and the prospect of tax reform. All an enormous test of what is possible under this Congress.
But while this will consume attention over the next few months, members of both parties have an opportunity to act for low-income Americans. Republicans have already taken the lead by introducing legislation to extend the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting program, or MIECHV, and by introducing a bipartisan bill to increase the child care and dependent tax credit. Not everything the Democrats want is included of course, but both bills would move their agenda forward. The question remains whether Democrats, when offered some of what they want, can work with Republicans to get something done for low-income Americans.
In June, House Republicans introduced the Increasing Opportunity Through Evidence-based Home Visiting Act, which extends for five years funding for the MIECHV program. Research shows that these programs have a number of benefits, including better health, reduced crime, reduced child abuse and neglect, and improved school readiness and achievement. Partly because of these positive effects, MIECHV has received bipartisan support in the past, most recently with a funding extension in 2015.
But Democrats were quick to criticize the Republican effort, mainly because the Republican bill requires cost-sharing over time and a proposed pay-for that cuts SSI payments to people with arrest or parole violation warrants. From Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR):
“This is a program with a history of strong bipartisan support, which is why I’m exceptionally troubled by the bill the House Republicans have put together,” said Wyden, in an e-mail to YSI. “Their bill would pit one disadvantaged group against another and pay for it by bringing back a cruel policy that took crucial support from the elderly and Americans with disabilities. Simply put, this bill is a nonstarter with anyone who cares about this successful program and wants to see it continue.”
Only in the hyperpartisan environment of Washington D.C. can a Republican effort to fund an evidence-based social service program be described as a “nonstarter”.
Republicans have also taken the lead on child care assistance by proposing a reasonable expansion that would target low-income families. Republican Representative Kevin Yoder (R-KS) joined Representative Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) to introduce the Promoting Affordable Childcare for Everyone Act late last month. A similar bill was introduced by the Senate early this year and aims to increase the child and dependent care tax credit, make it fully refundable so that it benefits low-income families, and increase the amount of tax-deferred child care expenses that qualify under a flexible spending account. Currently, the Senate bill has three Republican sponsors and co-sponsors, but no Democrats have signed on.
This bill is also similar to White House proposals, suggesting that the president could get on board. By making child care assistance a priority of his administration, it seems likely that President Trump would welcome a compromise bill from the House and Senate.
Neither is likely to get full support from Republicans in the House or Senate, but with enough Democrats in both chambers both bills might stand a chance. Republicans have made the first move. Let’s see if Democrats act on their own agenda.
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