Passengers in Washington’s clown car have let fly some typically dumb reasons to oppose Democrats’ $3.5 trillion human infrastructure plan. “You get a bigger socialist government, you get harm to our economy," said House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who won’t be collecting the Nobel Prize in economics anytime soon. But not all arguments supporting the measure have been Solomonic, either.
President Biden believes his party should back him out of loyalty, pure and simple. "His view is: 'You're Democrats, and you're with your president or you're not,'" says an official. That reasoning gives me the willies, as a Never-Trump Republican appalled by Donald Trump’ GOP bootlickers. Biden’s not a racist authoritarian; still, presidential plans this ambitious must rise or fall on their merits. The Founders intended Pennsylvania Avenue to connect the White House with a legislature, not a rubber stamp.
Better to point out that the spending, to be spread over 10 years, would be just a smidge more than 1% of the economy — hardly enough to recreate the Greek debt crisis on these shores. That brings us to the bull’s-eye of compelling reasoning: Spending on children and families would boost the economy, not cripple it.
The evidence couldn’t be clearer on that point, and Biden and his party should saturate the country and Congress with the political equation, money for families = prosperity.
Getting that message out was critical as I wrote this on deadline late Thursday, when House Democrats were still squabbling over a smaller, bipartisan, physical infrastructure bill. (The Senate approved it in August.) Fixing roads, rail and bridges, expanding broadband, and spending on climate resilience should be a no-brainer. That said, progressives want guarantees of Senate backing for the Big Bill, being pursued through reconciliation, before approving the smaller one. Their patience is justifiably fraying with Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, Democratic holdouts. That package needs every Senate Democratic vote to survive.
Spending on children and families would boost the economy, not cripple it.
Manchin and Sinema self-advertise as moderates, which they evidently define as people who favor only moderate progress. Or regress, as in Manchin’s prehistoric demands for things like fossil fuel tax breaks in the human infrastructure bill. As it stands, the $3.5 trillion promises more-than-moderate economic payoffs, captured in three words: healthier, smarter workers.
The headline provisions include an extra $1 trillion in child tax credits, child care subsidies for working families, paid family and medical leave, and universal pre-kindergarten. The Brookings Institution summarizes what we know from years of research into these programs, starting with child credits. Numerous studies, including this one recently published, validate credits as helping to yield “higher levels of education, employment and health, and lower levels of incarceration as adults.”
The Wall Street Journal grouses that the credits will be a work-ethic killer. Leave aside that ingrained cultural habits usually are hardier than that, and that Sen. Mitt Romney — who’s not given to humming the Socialist Internationale — supports child credits. Focus instead on ABCs: from Alaska to Brazil to Chelsea, Massachusetts, cash payments to families — for children, food, or other purposes — successfully hedge against poverty, without creating legions of loafers.
[T]he president can point to evidence that his priorities are sound dollars-and-cents investments as well as compassionate
Research into paid family leave cited by Brookings (here and here, for the wonky) likewise suggests “that it improves the infant’s health and early development, maternal well-being, and longer-term maternal employment.” Meanwhile, pre-K helps children fare better in upper elementary grades. A longer-term study of Boston pre-K found students graduating high school and getting into college at higher rates than their peers who hadn't attended pre-school. (College, of course, raises graduates’ lifetime earnings once they’re workers.)
And child care? One large study suggested that it sets children on a path to higher levels of education, employment and health, while decreasing their odds of being jailed as adults. Other research cited by Brookings found that good child care starting in infancy “is linked to higher outcomes on math and reading tests that persisted until age 15, and higher levels of education and employment at 26 years of age.”
To be clear, I wish Biden had advanced different priorities, including, yes, smarter ways to pay for the spending. But the president can point to evidence that his priorities are sound dollars-and-cents investments as well as compassionate. The alternative is not my priorities but congressional Republicans’ — from suppressing voters and succoring xenophobes, to inflating the national debt with giveaways to the rich.
I’m unaware of any evidence that those priorities enhance prosperity. And well aware that the nation can’t afford a certain orange-haired clown waiting in the wings for 2024, coveting a Biden failure and promotion back to Oval Office ringmaster.