Bruce Fuller: Romney’s lonely crusade to lift America’s families

Romney’s Family Security Act isn’t getting enough support from Democrats or Republicans.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Mitt Romney speaks with the media following a Memorial Day ceremony at the Utah Capitol on Monday, May 30, 2022.

Mitt Romney must feel like a lonely maverick.

He’s pushing to raise President Biden’s monthly payments to parents who face rising prices and struggle to nurture children in economically fragile homes. But Romney’s moderate proposal has attracted little support from fellow Republicans, content in winning their most prized family policy, reversing Roe v. Wade.

The silence is equally deafening from leading Democrats. Rather than meet Romney halfway, Senate Democrats may let die Biden’s child tax credits – blown by their own petard – which has backstopped 36 million, largely middle-class parents, while lifting nearly 4 million children out of poverty over the past year.

Romney’s Family Security Act 2.0 would award parents $4,200 a year for each child under 6, and $3,000 for older youngsters under 17. These payments would better Biden’s cash-back tax credit by almost 20 percent, resembling a universal basic income long embraced by progressives.

Few doubt Romney’s sincerity in helping struggling parents.

“Families provide the bedrock of our nation,” he emailed to me. “But there’s perhaps never been a more challenging time to raise children.”

Romney includes a $2,800 payment to women after their fifth month of pregnancy, helping to prepare for their newborn.

Democrats must decide whether to compromise with Romney as he inches his party toward the political center. When a red state like Kansas votes decisively to protect women’s reproductive rights, the Republican romance with far-right groups loses appeal.

If Congress fails to extend Biden’s refundable credit, after-tax income will fall by $3,200 for a young family with two children. Low-income parents cruelly lose twice that amount, as they gained nothing from the pre-Biden tax credit.

“All the extra money went for rent and food,” Taryn Jensen said, a Provo mother of five. “It’s been a struggle each month financially. I want to be home with the kids, that’s where I should be,” she told me. “But it’s getting to the point where I have to get a job.”

Romney must win over a handful of fellow Republicans to strike a bipartisan deal in the next two months.

Romney’s plan is unabashedly pro-work. He denies monthly allowances to parents or guardians who remain jobless, including retirees who care for grandchildren. This rankles Senate Democrats, along with Romney’s insistence on tying economic support to social engineering, pitching a “pro-life” and “pro-marriage” ideology.

“Conversations are being held at the staff level” with Democrats, Romney assured me.

He has helped to broker bipartisan action on $1.2 trillion in public infrastructure, along with enacting gun control and aid for the semiconductor industry.

A deal breaker for Democrats is how Romney would pay for his plump allowance to families – slashing $46 billion from the existing earned-income tax credit. These cuts would exceed Romney’s recast family allowance for many, increasing tax bills for 7 million low and middle-income parents.

Meanwhile, Romney would extend aid to affluent families earning up to $400,000 per year. A modest tax on corporations or wealthy Americans — the former option won last week by computer-chip makers — would more fairly finance his plan.

At the same time, Democrats’ own sacred policy scripture must not put 36 million families at risk of losing income as consumer prices go through the roof. Work requirements already characterize similar federal programs.

Parents must hold down a job to benefit from the earned-income credit, which refunds taxes to working-poor and solidly middle-class families. Bill Clinton inserted a work prerequisite when “ending welfare as we know it” three decades ago, centering the Democratic Party while alienating stalwart progressives.

All the political wrangling offers slight comfort for struggling parents like Gina Jessop, a classroom aide raising three children in her Salt Lake apartment. Grateful for Biden’s tax refund, “it was nice but not enough to put away for a rainy day,” she said. Jessop and her husband paid down credit card bills, although “funny how you pay it off, and it goes back up.”

Biden and Romney would both benefit from a late-summer political romance, hammering out a bipartisan package for families. The president desperately needs to backstop households as midterm elections appear on the horizon. Republicans will likely lose swing voters, especially suburban women, unless the GOP matches discernible results with its pro-family rhetoric.

Romney may sense the lack of compassion shown by an imperious state that dictates whether a woman grows a family or not, while denying parents real economic support. He now hopes to devise a kinder and gentler Republican Party, which just might lift the nation’s parents and children.

Bruce Fuller

Bruce Fuller, professor of education and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, is author of “When Schools Work.”