Can The GOP Reboot As The Parents’ Party?

Reihan Salam has a great summary and exposition of the latest (and not-so-latest!) thinking surrounding a possible Republican renovation as the party of what he calls “the parenting class.” Lately this idea has gained the sort of momentum that doesn’t really materialize unless there’s really something there. So I’m sympathetic toward the notion of moving away from a monomaniacal tax cuts focus, and it’s not surprising to see Republicans look toward the family for a partisan purpose.

Nevertheless, there are some risks and cautions I’d want to flag early, and I do so here.

In particular, I’d observe that Republicans have routinely — and, I think, correctly — warned against trying to “save” failing institutions by using the power of government and the bias of policy to bail them out and prop them up with subsidies. It’s all too easy to see how the traditional family, in an unflattering way, slots into that political framework — despite the many deep differences between the traditional family and an institution like, say, the American automotive industry.

It’s harder than I’d like for it to be to see exactly how the pivot to family policy would free the GOP from the trap that’s hurting it so much now: claiming to oppose Democrats out of principle, but opposing them in practice just insofar as their preferred policy outcomes differ. Erick Erickson put the matter bluntly:

While the default rule should always be to never use the tax code to encourage or prohibit behavior — it should just be about raising revenue — as long as Washington intends to do that, the Republicans should favor a tax code that rewards two parent nuclear households with multiple children and, through the use of generous deductions, provide incentive for one spouse to stay home.

To me, at least, this sounds like a perfect recipe for ensuring that the default rule will be the default rule only in Republican dreams.

  1. Mike H

    Ramesh Ponnuru has claimed on several occasions that government policy is currently biased against families and children. If we eliminate the marriage penalty (give married households tax brackets exactly double those of singles), and increase the child tax credit to $4000 per child per year, non refundable, but credit for all taxes including payroll, government can become neutral to the family.

    These are both pro-family, are non-subsidies, and are not a “bailout.” 

  2. Nick Stuart

    The new tax rates that kick in for singles earning $400,000 and couples earning $450,000 encourages high-earners to shack up instead of get married. Sounds like a step in the wrong direction.

  3. Jeff

    I think problems outside the tax code are more significant. The government subsidizes single motherhood. The GOP lacks testicular fortitude to challenge that.

    All government has to do is stop providing perverse incentives. The natural order will reassert itself.

  4. Mark

    “The Family Party” could never be a national party because so much of what Washington does has nothing to do with family.  Personally, I think the GOP should position itself as the “Future Party” while the Dems are the “Live For Today Party”.

    Are you an immigrant (legal or not) who wants to get ahead?  The Future Party is your home.  That’s why you came here in the first place, right?

    Are you an engineering student worried about finding a job and paying off your loans?  Would you rather have a subsistence level handout funded by a tax that destroyed the medical device industry or a job in a thriving medical device industry?

    Are you Sandra Fluke worried about whether you can find somone willing to pay for your sex life?  The Future Party is here to…  Actually, I can’t even think of any legitimate response to her that would pass the civility test.  But you get the idea.

  5. Dan Hanson

    Republicans have tried being the ‘family party’ for as long as I remember.  How’s that been working for them?

    Today’s liberal families don’t want ‘family values’.  They want free health care, free day care, free education, a guaranteed job,  and free college for their kids.  

    George Bush tried this stuff with his family tax incentives and rebates, his big increases in federal education spending, his ‘ownership society’, and other ‘compassionate conservative’ programs.  The result wasn’t an expansion of the Republican party – it was big deficits and bigger government. 

    The government’s job isn’t to encourage or discourage behavior with the tax code.  Republicans should be against that stuff, even if some incentives seem to benefit their ideals.

  6. Merina Smith

    Family friendly policies are important and should be championed, but I think the future party is a better idea.  Using tax policy to encourage mothers not to work is probably a bad idea too.  Don’t get me wrong, that’s a fine choice for women to make and in theory I like the idea, but it’s just not the image we want to have right now on top of all the stupid stuff that came down in the election.

  7. Donald Todd

    The “default rule” with special exemptions for a stay-at-home parent may not appeal to women who have a desire to work outside the home.  The benefits to the kids notwithstanding, there are a lot of people who don’t recognize the older method of one working / one caring for the kids as suitable for them.

    I note this as someone whose wife was at home and available to the kids all the time, and who discovered her keen desire to be involved in their education directly.

    At this point, homeschooling mothers (or fathers?) excepted, you might leave the special exemption in and not require a parent to not work outside the household.

    I also would suggest that the appeal be made to the middle class.  I had the impression that the Republican Party was much more a middle class party than a save the rich party, except when the professional Republicans were schizophrenic.

    Good luck.  If you manage this to completion, I’ll come back.

  8. Donald Todd

    Zafar:  If families benefit from taxes other people (without the 4K pa child tax credit) pay it’s a subsidy by another name.

    Actually this is about people paying a lower tax based on the fact that they have children.  Paying taxes is not the same as taxing other people or subsidization.  It recognizes that parents have added costs due to  the fact that they have children.  Having children should not be the cause of tax penalties by forcing married people to pay at a higher rate simply because they are married with children.  Neither should the married with children people should be forced to subsidize other taxpayers.

  9. Mike H
    Zafar: If families benefit from taxes other people (without the 4K pa child tax credit) pay it’s a subsidy by another name.

    Michael Hinton: Ramesh Ponnuru has claimed on several occasions that government policy is currently biasedagainst families and children. If we eliminate the marriage penalty (give married households tax brackets exactly double those of singles), and increase the child tax credit to $4000 per child per year, non refundable, but credit for all taxes including payroll, government can become neutral to the family.

    These are both pro-family, are non-subsidies, and are not a “bailout.”  · 7 hours ago

    Edited 7 hours ago

    8 hours ago

    Right, the idea being that now people who don’t raise children get a free ride because the child-rearers incur all the costs of raising new taxpayers.

  10. Al Sparks

    Ramesh Ponnuru advocates tax breaks for families over singles.  He says that lifetime singles are freeloaders because when they get old they need care, but they have no children to provide it. So if they’re going to get it, and they don’t have savings to fall back on, it has to come from somewhere.

    Since I’m a bachelor getting beyond middle age, that hits pretty close to home. But my time in the military made me resentful towards “family friendly” policies. U.S. law prohibits job discrimination based on marital status (is Ponnuru against that?)   But one big exception is the military, which pays you more if you are married, and more again if you have kids (though military families with lots of kids are reportedly on food stamps, so it’s not enough).

    What got me was military housing available to married personnel (no kids) while I had to live on board ship. Since I was stationed in a high rent area, my base pay wouldn’t cover getting my own place. So if you want to look at the other side of the equation, look at the military. Real resentment breaks out occasionally.

  11. Zafar

    If families benefit from taxes other people (without the 4K pa child tax credit) pay it’s a subsidy by another name.

    Michael Hinton: Ramesh Ponnuru has claimed on several occasions that government policy is currently biasedagainst families and children. If we eliminate the marriage penalty (give married households tax brackets exactly double those of singles), and increase the child tax credit to $4000 per child per year, non refundable, but credit for all taxes including payroll, government can become neutral to the family.

    These are both pro-family, are non-subsidies, and are not a “bailout.”  · 7 hours ago

    Edited 7 hours ago

  12. LHFry

    A recent survey in Forbes showed that something like 85% of women with children would prefer to stay home with them, but couldn’t afford it.   So greater subsidies for stay at home moms (or possibly dads) would be a winner.   See this week’s Washington Post magazine for an honest portrayal of the difficulties of shared parenting.   

    As for whether women want to work outside the home – of course we do.   But the message needs to be “you CAN have it all – you just can’t have it all at once.”    I believe Madeleine Albright is the source of this quote and it makes more sense as time goes on.      Both women and men will have to work longer, so there is plenty of opportunity to raise children and to have a career.    I am retired now, but I worked until I had my first child at 33, the second at 34, and went back to work 12 years later.   The second round was more enjoyable, more productive, and one reason probably was that the pressures that women feel to be productive are less once they are in a stable relationship and have solved the childbearing issues.   

  13. James Poulos
    C

    Not sure I have anything to add here except: keep these great and surprising remarks coming. “The party of long-term planning” may not be super-sexy (or, necessarily, super-pro-family), but it is Tocqueville-approved…