Democrats in Congress are arguing among themselves about whether to pass a massive spending bill, or merely a large one. They should listen to voters, who are pointing the way.
A new Morning Consult poll asked voters what they think of the child tax credit Democrats expanded as part of the American Rescue Plan Congress passed in March. That law sharply increased the credit for most families with kids under 18, while also eliminating a work requirement for eligibility. Low-income families that don’t pay enough in taxes to qualify for the full amount of the credit now get back the difference as a cash payment. And instead of waiting till the following year to claim the benefit, qualifying families can now get half the credit as a monthly check from the government. The Biden administration says the enhanced entitlement will remit several thousand dollars to the families of 60 million kids.
The extension only lasts through the rest of the year, and Biden and most Democrats in Congress want to keep it in place through 2025. That’s one big element of the $3.5 trillion spending bill Democrats are debating. The idea is once voters get a taste of the benefit, they’ll want to keep it in place—and reward their Democratic benefactors at the voting booth in 2022 and 2024.
But it’s not working out that way. The Morning Consult poll found that only 50% of registered voters approve of the expanded tax credit, while 38% oppose it and 11% don’t know. That’s a slim majority in favor, but it’s also only half of all voters. Seventy-four percent of Democrats support the expanded tax credit, but only 44% of Independents do. That tells you support for a key Democratic initiative is underwater with centrist voters Democrats need to keep control of both houses of Congress in the 2022 midterms.© Provided by Yahoo! Finance President Joe Biden walks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, after attending a meeting with the House Democratic caucus to try to resolve an impasse around the bipartisan infrastructure bill. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Support is even lower for making the more generous benefit permanent, which just 35% of voters support. Fifty-two percent oppose making it permanent, while 13% say they don’t know. Even among Democrats, just 52% think the change should be permanent.
This is a pulsing signpost telling Democrats two things: 1. Move back toward the center, and 2. Make sure voters know you move back to the center.
The child tax credit is a darling of the liberal progressive wing of the Democratic party, and in a way it resembles “universal basic income”—a fixed amount of government financing for every household, every year. But voters aren’t ready to enlarge the safety net that far, that fast. That’s why Biden won the presidency in 2020, eclipsing liberal Democrats such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren with a vision of pragmatic government staying within certain bounds.
© Provided by Yahoo! Finance Representative Jimmy Gomez, left, watches as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, talks about the expanded Child Tax Credit at a press conference held at Barrio Action Youth and Family Center on July 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Progressives declared victory recently when they blocked the bipartisan infrastructure deal by demanding massive social-welfare spending in exchange for their votes. But blocking the infrastructure deal doesn’t mean progressives will get what they want. If anything, it may mean nobody gets what they want, and the whole Democratic package collapses.
Progressives blame a handful of Senate Democrats who won’t sign off on $3.5 trillion in new spending over the next decade, as if these centrist holdouts are unreasonable. More like it’s the other way around. The centrists, including Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, say they may not approve anything above $2 trillion in new spending. That would be on top of nearly $6 trillion in Covid relief funding during the last 18 months, plus all the regular government spending. Toss in the $1 trillion infrastructure bill and total funding above routine levels would be something like $9 trillion since the start of 2020. That’s unprecedented.
Democrats can scale back their ambitions for a permanent expansion of the child tax credit, making it more of a down payment than a permanent new entitlement. They could lower the income ceiling at which the credit phases out, reduce the amount of the credit itself or put a limit on the number of kids it applies to. They could also shorten the amount of time the expansion is in effect, to get the cost down.
© Provided by Yahoo! Finance Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaks at a news conference outside of his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Lowering the cost of this benefit is crucial because it’s one of the most expensive programs on the Democratic wish list. A permanent expansion would cost about $1.1 trillion over a decade, or more than $100 billion per year. That’s nearly one-third of all the new spending progressive Democrats are demanding. Slashing this amount by half, say, would still be a costly new entitlement, though one more in tune with the spending caps Manchin and Sinema are looking for.
Democrats will have to trim many other parts of the Biden plan to get it into the range of a $2 trillion bill that has a chance of passing the Senate, where Democrats need every single vote. Voters may like parts of the Biden plan, but in many ways they’ve expressed their preference for incremental change over revolution. Democrats can listen now, or they’ll get the message at the polls in 2022.