Millions of kids are in the crosshairs of the latest policy debate
The Child Tax Credit, a crown jewel of President Biden’s economic agenda, is facing skepticism from you-know-who. Plus: A cozy wool-blend scarf with a handy pocket to stash my essentials in.
Something weird happened last week: The Congressional Budget Office, a US federal agency that provides lawmakers with economic and budgetary analysis, published a letter in response to a request from Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to estimate the costs of several of the programs in the Build Back Better Act across a 10-year time span.
The problem though is that none of the provisions in the bill currently being drafted for a vote are proposed to last that long. But Graham says he asked for the score because popular social programs are almost always either extended or made permanent. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said as much in her press briefing yesterday. “That is [Graham’s] prerogative to do, but what our focus is on is on the existing bill that will lower the deficit, that will also, over an additional 10 years, pay for the $2 trillion tax cuts that Republicans didn’t pay for,” she said. “They’re welcome for that.”
But Graham’s request achieved its intended goal. Republicans lack the votes to block the bill from passing both chambers. So their next-best option is to chip away at one Senate Democrat — Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia — who to this point is unwilling to commit to a signature piece of legislation that will do his party and the American people more good than not.
In the process, it’s also given Manchin another excuse to question whether he should pump the brakes on Build Back Better altogether. This would go against the will of Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, as I wrote yesterday, and the White House who has been more than accommodating to his concerns since the summer.
And this dynamic is also playing out in a report from Hans Nichols at Axios, who reports that Sen. Manchin is especially worried about the price tag of the Child Tax Credit — one of Build Back Better's flagship provisions.
On the one hand, there’s the White House, which estimates a one-year fully-funded extension of the program would cost $185 billion. But Manchin is forecasting 10 years of spending, with the help of the CBO, because he thinks the tax credit won’t be sunset after one. “Whatever Congress is considering, we should do it within the limits of what we can afford,” Manchin said to CNN yesterday. “Whatever plan it would be, [universal] pre-K, child care and home care, then it should be [over] 10 years, it shouldn’t just be one year here, three years here, five years here.”
The irony is that Manchin’s colleagues agree! But Democrats cut the length of programs or removed them from the legislation altogether because he wouldn’t agree to the original cost of the investments. It seems as if the Senator wants it both ways by slashing programs because they’re too expensive while withholding his vote because of what may happen if the policies in the bill he’s uncommitted to are hypothetically extended. Make it make sense.
A spokesperson for Sen. Manchin did not respond to a request from Supercreator News to confirm the report.
What’s worse is that tomorrow marks the last month millions of working families will receive their tax payments unless Build Back Better passes by end of the year. If it expires, then it would likely send millions of kids back into poverty.
Jennifer Flynn Walker, senior director of mobilization and advocacy at The Center for Popular Democracy, told me over the phone this afternoon that if lawmakers let the tax credit expire for too long then the lapse will become the story. “All you'll hear is how all these people are facing eviction and losing their child care,” she said. “And if they’re losing their child care, then they're losing their jobs and then they don’t know they don’t know how they’re going to put food on the table. You don’t want that.”
According to the Children’s Defense Fund, children remain the poorest age group in America. Every minute, a baby is born into poverty and about one in seven children were poor in 2019. Children of color, as always, are at greatest risk: 71 percent of poor children were Black, Hispanic or Indigenous. And nearly one in six children under six lived in poverty during their years of greatest brain development. If these numbers don’t hit home for you, ask yourself: Would my family be able to survive on $9 per day per person? For 4.5 million US children living in extreme poverty, they have no choice.
Data from UNICEF finds many kids are “multi-dimensionally poor” — without access to education, health, housing, nutrition, sanitation or water — and this inequality leads to grave outcomes including food insecurity, living in shelters, transitional housing or on the streets or being uninsured. “Poor children are more likely to have poor academic achievement, drop out of high school and later become unemployed, experience economic hardship and be involved in the criminal justice system,” UNICEF’s website says. “Children who experience poverty are also more likely to be poor at age 30 than children who never experience poverty.”
And as a nation, we lose $700 billion a year — about 3.5 percent of gross domestic product — in lost productivity, worsened health and increased crime stemming from child poverty. The pandemic and climate crisis have aggravated this reality.
When President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan in March, it expanded the Child Tax Credit from $2,000 to $3,000 per child for children over age six and from $2,000 to $3,600 for children over age six. It also raised the age limit from 16 to 17. According to the White House, the “Biden Tax Credit,” as Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls it, “provides the largest tax credit ever and historic relief to the most working families ever” and “the largest one-year reduction in child poverty in history.”
The main selling point is that most families would receive the benefit as monthly automatic direct deposits of $250 or $300 per child instead of a refund when they filed their taxes. “Just providing cash to people who are struggling enables them to pay for child care or put food on the table, maybe help cover the rent and give them the basic needs that they were struggling to meet,” Flynn Walker said.
But White House officials knew the American Rescue Plan only paid for payments from July through December. That’s how we got to the one-year extension in Build Back Better, even though Biden initially proposed funding the tax through 2025 with the ultimate goal of making it permanent. But Manchin feels the expanded tax credit is too generous and the prime cause of rising costs.
Senate Democrats have watched for months as two members — Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema — chip away a generational piece of legislation that’s enormously popular to protect their corporate donors and feign some semblance of fiscal responsibility. To be clear, some of this is just the legislative process at work. Most bills presidents sign into law never look like the ones that were introduced in Congress. But while the Democratic Party obviously has its institutional blemishes, it’s making an attempt to govern despite the fact that their preference for gradual change over sweeping progress leaves much to be desired from its base. At the same time, Republicans have watched on the sidelines without offering any meaningful alternatives — behavior that’s likely going to be entrenched if the GOP reclaims their House and Senate majorities next year.
We’re also a week removed from Congress authorizing $770 billion in defense spending for 2022 with “no score from the CBO, no concern about the deficit or no mention of inflation,” as Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York noted at the time. “It is astounding how quickly Congress moves weapons but we can’t ensure housing, care and justice for our veterans nor invest in robust jobs programs for districts like mine.”
I empathize with the exasperation I feel when I talk to folks at the White House and on Capitol Hill. And I’m not arguing against military spending. But poverty, like the maintenance of a formidable defense, is a policy choice. And these policy choices reveal our collective priorities.
Nonetheless, the White House is still optimistic Build Back Better will make its way to the president’s desk sooner rather than later. A source said that it’s encouraging that Manchin is still negotiating with Senate Democrats and the White House (Manchin and Biden spoke by phone yesterday and are expected to talk again this week). And despite all the cuts, the policies that do survive will make a meaningful impact.
“I know it sounds ridiculous, but there is a little bit of help on its way,” Flynn Walker said. “Build Back Better is a pretty transformative bill. It’s not everything that we would have wanted. But we are going to get the Child Tax Credit, I hope, reinvested in and sent out.” She also emphasized the huge cuts to the cost of health care and that more people will be eligible for Medicaid and able to afford the Affordable Care Act if the Senate passes the bill. There are also the substantial investments to tackle lead and water in buildings that pick up where the infrastructure package President Biden signed last month left off. “Help is coming,” Flynn Walker said. “But it also requires that people participate. So do what you can.”
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Today in Politics
President Joe Biden received his daily intelligence briefing with Vice President Kamala Harris this morning. The president and vice president will speak at a holiday celebration for the Democratic National Committee this evening. First Lady Jill Biden and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will join their spouses.
Vice President Harris also spoke and participated in a conversation at the Freedman’s Bank Forum, an event to honor the bank’s legacy of providing economic opportunity for newly emancipated Americans. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen delivered remarks too.
The House is in session and will vote on legislation to combat Islamophobia and a resolution to hold former T**** chief of staff Mark Meadows in contempt for his refusal to comply with a subpoena from the committee investigating the Jan 6. attack on the Capitol. Members will also vote to lift the debt ceiling if it passes out of the Senate. The Oversight Committee heard testimony from health experts on global vaccination efforts. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Jim Himes held a press conference on Build Back Better’s early childhood investments. House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries and Vice Chair Pete Aguilar spoke to reporters after the party’s weekly meeting.
The Senate is in session will vote to end debate on a US District Judge nominee and a bill to fund the military for the upcoming year. Senators will also vote to move forward on legislation to lift the debt ceiling. The Health Committee held a confirmation hearing for Dr. Robert Califf, President Biden’s nominee to be FDA commissioner. The Banking Committee held a hearing on stablecoins, a popular form of virtual currency, and the risk they pose to financial markets. The Foreign Relations Committee held confirmation hearings for nominees to be US ambassadors to Germany, Pakistan and India.
Pelosi, congressional leaders and bipartisan members of the House and Senate will hold a US Capitol Moment of Silence this evening for 800,000 American lives lost to COVID-19.
In The Know
Pfizer released data that found its COVID-19 pill reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 89 percent in a recent trial. The company says the pill also provides protection against Delta, Omicron, and other current variants of concern and coronaviruses. (Pfizer)
I missed this yesterday, but it’s worth another mention: The US reached 800,000 coronavirus-related deaths on Sunday. The death toll exceeds the entire population of North Dakota. (Roshan Abraham and Aparupa Mazumder / Reuters)