Even before President Trump was elected, Ivanka Trump, his daughter and advisor, stressed the importance of child care and, specifically, making child care more affordable for parents across the United States. Her rhetoric was hardly controversial or partisan. Democrats and Republicans have both called for increasing childcare tax credits and members of both parties have expressed horror with rising costs and the failure of the government to help pay or contain them. With Ivanka Trump behind it, and the Republican party at large behind it, and people across the aisle behind it, one would think that the childcare tax credit, which essentially allows parents to keep some money to spend, presumably, on kids, would be included in the GOP’s new tax plan. It is not, which is odd.
It’s not that the GOP’s outline for a tax plan mentions no expansion of the CTC at all. It’s rather that they have no clearly defined policy, despite detailed discussions and Ivanka Trump’s consistent lobbying. The language nods toward an increase, but guarantees nothing.
Here’s the problem everyone (more or less) agrees on: Childcare is getting more expensive for families of all tax brackets. Recent studies have shown that full-time childcare for working parents can be as expensive as in-state tuition for universities. Combine this with the fact that wages don’t rise and the fact that many parents still don’t get benefits to help with the economic burden of children and you have a problem. There is, however, a solution to that problem: making the CTC fully refundable. As it stands, the CTC is nonrefundable and therefore inapplicable for families without income tax liability. That means the poorest families get nothing.
Many politicians, especially within the rhetorically pro-working-families Republican party, have recognized the problem. Marco Rubio said as much when he went on record this month to express his support for a child tax credit. Much like people across the aisle, Rubio seeks a credit that would also be fully refundable so that working families with low incomes can benefit from the policy. At one juncture, President Trump was said to be working with Rubio on that policy. Plenty of people on both sides of the aisle and even in the libertarian Freedom Caucus have proposed different ideas of what an expanded child tax credit could look like. People have different ideas, but no one is against it.
The point is, everyone is behind it, in varying capacities, no matter what their policies would look like in theory or in practice. The problem with the continued use of vague language is that non-specific promises generally aren’t kept and, more to the point, it illustrates that the CTC has become a low political priority in Washington, where talking points like giving low-income families help are a valuable currency. If the CTC isn’t expanded, it will be very clear who is to blame: everyone who had a seat in the room.