Republicans should help working families

Republicans should help working families

Republicans should help working families

Dartanyan Edmonds

Ivanka Trump has a terrific idea. Trump is arguing that Republicans should at least double the child tax credit, a tax break currently standing at $1,000 given to parents for each dependent child they have. During her father’s campaign, Trump advocated pro-family economic policy via mandated paid family leave, an idea that conservatives are often hesitant to embrace.  There are good reasons to question her paid leave ideas, but the First Daughter’s child credit expansion is a much-needed corrective to our tax policy that would help working families.    

Created in 1997, the child credit has been providing tax relief to parents for two decades.  Some conservatives, including National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru and the economist Robert Stein, have been calling for increasing the credit for years.  According to Stein, increasing the credit is necessary because our tax code, coupled with our old-age entitlement programs, over-taxes parents and creates government-sanctioned bias against having children. 

Our entitlement programs, Social Security and Medicare, are funded by the payroll tax, which directly funds the former and partially funds the latter.  These programs are popular, but their taxes are a burden on middle-class parents.  As Stein points out in a 2010 essay for the political journal National Affairs, parents actually pay for our entitlements twice.  In addition to paying payroll taxes, parents are responsible for the costs of raising children, who will then contribute payroll taxes themselves when they enter the workforce someday.  This means that parents shoulder a double burden for our old-age entitlement expenses, as they are paying taxes for the current generation of retirees’ benefits, and are subsidizing the retirements of their own generation’s childless cohort. 

Additionally, drawing on economic research that shows that old-age entitlement programs reduce fertility in developed nations, Stein shows that old-age entitlements create a bias against having children.  Since programs like Social Security give financial stability in old age, they provide disincentives for having children: In the absence of such programs, children would directly provide for their elderly parents.  But old-age entitlement programs at least partially replace children’s roles, giving people less incentive to have kids.              

To remedy these distortions in government policy, Republicans should expand the child tax credit as Ivanka Trump has suggested.  Thankfully, she’s not alone in her child credit expansion agenda.  In their 2015 tax reform plan, Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Mike Lee proposed creating a new child credit of $2,500, in addition to the $1,000 credit parents now enjoy.  Naturally, Trump is working with Senator Rubio’s office to expand the child credit and allow parents to apply it against payroll tax liabilities.  But this effort will undoubtedly face backlash from some conservatives.

Some conservatives object that the child credit expansion is a social engineering project designed to raise our low fertility rates through bribery. Others argue that it leaves less room for corporate tax cuts in the federal budget.  According to Ponnuru, the latter objection is why Republicans might decide to only modestly expand the child credit.    

If Republicans listen to the credit’s critics, they will be making a huge mistake.  First, the child credit is not a social engineering project.  The expanded credit’s purpose is not to bribe parents to have more children than they desire. It simply remedies a distortion in the tax code by offsetting tax liabilities that parents shoulder more than their childless peers.  But to the extent that the credit could positively affect fertility rates, it would be because it allows parents to have the number of kids that they actually want.  Polling shows that many American parents want more children, but they simply don’t believe that they can afford to have them.  The credit’s expansion could help parents have more children by leaving them more disposable income for day care, college savings or even covering costs of part-time work so that parents can spend more time at home with their young children.         

Most conservatives (myself included) would argue that government policy should be neutral in promoting procreation.  Critics of the child credit think that its expansion would be setting government bias in favor of having kids.  But the opposite is true: Our government policy sets bias against procreation and the child credit expansion would seek to neutralize that bias.  

Secondly, while cutting corporate taxes is important for economic growth, conservatives should also recognize pro-family tax reform’s importance.  We conservatives favor limited government, understanding that activist government policy stands to weaken civil society.  Our governmental bias against family formation is an example of this.  As a movement that prides itself on family’s importance and the importance of restraining government, we should champion the child tax credit to strengthen an area of civil society that our overactive government has weakened and allow families some modest relief from government’s grip.