Historically, providing assistance for working parents — especially low-income mothers — has been a bipartisan effort. Now, it’s emerging as new competitive front between Republicans and Democrats. So what’s the case, pro or con? Here’s the evidence, on both sides:
THE CASE FOR BIPARTISANSHIP
Lawmakers from both sides have repeatedly supported significant federal funding for low-income working mothers. In the mid-'90s, when Congress and President Clinton reached an agreement on how to overhaul the welfare reform, they provided childcare funding so former welfare recipients could return to work. Just last year, Congress provided a $1.4 billion increase for early learning programs as part of its budget deal, which helped restore cuts imposed by the across-the-board sequester and provided a $500 million increase for the Early Head Start program. That money will provide high-quality child care for roughly 40,000 infants and toddlers whose families live at or below the poverty line.
In March, the Senate passed legislation, championed by Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), that would impose stricter safety and training requirements on child-care providers. A year ago, the Health and Human Services Department proposed its own national health and safety standards, for the first time, on all child-care facilities that accept government subsidies.
And Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has signed on to legislation drafted by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) promoting a child-care tax break.
“It’s been a bipartisan issue for a very long time,” said Helen Blank, director of child care and early learning at the National Women’s Law Center.
Public polling supports this idea. In 2010, the Public Welfare Foundation commissioned NORC to conduct a survey on support for paid sick days, finding support for it stood at 75 percent overall, with 61 percent favoring it “strongly." Sixty-two percent of Republicans favored such a law, along with 90 percent of Democrats and 80 percent of independents. After hearing several arguments for and against it (including the potential for employee abuse and the impact on small businesses), Republican support dipped to 54 percent, while Democratic backing ticked up to 95 percent in support of the proposal.
THE CASE FOR PARTISANSHIP
House Democrats have made it one of their main talking points. A group of female House Democrats developed a platform last fall under the title “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds,” a phrase the President Obama used in his 2014 State of the Union Access. It includes several proposals on issues including child care, paid leave and equal pay for women. House Democrats recently did an eight-city bus tour on working families issues, and many Democratic candidates at the federal, state and local level are all campaigning on the issue.
Senate Republicans talk about it, too. A group of them, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), held a news conference last week that highlighted all the measures Republicans have introduced measures to provide greater flexibility for working parents. Those include Utah Sen. Mike Lee’s Working Families Flexibility Act, which would allow private-sector employers to give employees who work overtime a choice between extra pay or extra comp time. That proposal has already passed the House in a 223-204 vote. Other proposals include McConnell’s bill to allow families to take a home office tax deduction even if there’s a crib in the room.
President Obama’s been highlighting the issue, but can’t get Congress to approve his proposals. The president made funding for universal pre-school education a central part of his 2013 State of the Union address, offering to pay for it with a $75 billion cigarette tax. That proposal has gone nowhere in Congress.
The upshot: Many Democrats and Republicans are willing to support federal support for low-income women seeking child-care assistance. But once you get past that one issue, the parties are sharply divided — and are intent on highlighting that contrast as they woo voters in 2014 and 2016.
Scott Clement contributed to this report.