IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Romney jolts policy debate with plan for new benefit for children

Nearly a decade later, Romney remains a conservative Republican, but his willingness to extend "big gifts" to families has clearly evolved.
Image: Mitch McConnell Says Senate Will Hold Vote On Trump Supreme Court Nominee
Sen. Mitt Romney speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill on Sept. 21, 2020.Stefani Reynolds / Getty Images

Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign fell short for a variety of reasons, but one of the Republican's problems stood out: Romney voiced broad opposition to using government to make a material difference in Americans' lives.

In the infamous "47 percent" video, for example, Romney told a group of wealthy donors that nearly half of Americans are lazy parasites, looking for government handouts. It came amidst a nonsensical ad campaign in which he peddled ugly claims about President Obama and "welfare."

After Election Day 2012, he kept this going, telling donors that Obama won re-election because he bribed women and minorities with "big gifts," such as access to affordable health care and education.

Nearly a decade later, Romney remains a conservative Republican, but his willingness to extend "big gifts" to American families has clearly evolved. The Washington Post reported yesterday morning:

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) on Thursday will propose providing at least $3,000 per child to millions of American families, lending bipartisan support to President Biden's push to dramatically expand child benefits. Romney's proposal would provide $4,200 per year for every child up to the age of 6, as well as $3,000 per year for every child age 6 to 17.

At the risk of over-simplifying matters, Romney's proposal would make direct deposits into parents' bank accounts, by way of the Social Security Administration, with the intention of vastly improving child-poverty rates.

It's no secret as to why this matters: Democratic officials are working on crafting a similar policy of their own in the upcoming COVID relief package. In fact, ironically, Romney's blueprint would be slightly more generous than the Dems' plan for younger children.

Given the eagerness with which the White House and several congressional Democrats are trying to make this a bipartisan initiative, incorporating a new idea from Mitt Romney could make a big difference.

But it gets a little complicated. For one thing, Democrats aren't going to love how the Utah Republican intends to pay for the program. As Eric Levitz explained:

Romney's bill would eliminate the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC) and the Head of Household (HoH) tax-filing status, while reducing the value of the EITC to workers with children, and ending federal funding for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

Some of these programs would be duplicative, and some have already been hollowed out, but scaling back the Earned Income Tax Credit opens the door to leaving some struggling families worse off.

Complicating matters, Romney has made no effort to hide his opposition to the ambitious COVID relief plan backed by President Joe Biden. Democrats might embrace the senator's proposal -- or at least big chunks of it -- only to have the Utahan vote against the package anyway.

Finally, there's the response from Romney's Republican colleagues. There were some hopes that GOP senators such as Florida's Marco Rubio and/or Utah's Mike Lee might be willing to endorse Romney's vision. Those hopes were soon dashed.

Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) released a statement late Thursday strongly criticizing Romney's plan as "welfare assistance" and comparing it to a universal basic income program typically supported by the left.

If Rubio and Lee hate the plan, and they appear to, other GOP senators are likely to balk, too.

I won't pretend to know how this will turn out, but it's worth pausing to appreciate (a) the fact that we're in the midst of a real policy discussion, as if we had some kind of healthy political system in which debates over substantive details matter; and (b) policymakers are exploring how, not whether, to extend a hand to families that could use the help.