The Children’s New Deal

Understanding GOP Opposition to Human Infrastructure

President Biden’s historic American Families Plan is a large-scale investment in what is increasingly being called “human infrastructure”. The plan is sweeping and will transform the U.S. Government’s relationship with children and families in much the same way the New Deal transformed the U.S. Government’s relationship with adults — so much so that Biden’s approach could be called “The Children’s New Deal.” Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Bartholet, an expert in family law and director of the Child Advocacy Program at Harvard Law School, explains:

“I think that President Biden has to date shown himself to be a champion for children and families. His child tax credit cuts the child poverty rate in half. His proposed expansion of pre-kindergarten to cover all three- and four-year olds will, if enacted, provide poor children a much better chance to compete with their privileged peers at school and beyond. It will protect the most vulnerable children against abuse and neglect by getting them into settings on a daily basis where they are seen by school personnel who are mandated to report suspected maltreatment to child protection services. His proposed paid family leave, if enacted, will enable parents to stay home with their infants during important early weeks and months, without financial sacrifice. His commitment to provide affordable, high-quality childcare, if enacted, will enable parents to work while at the same time ensuring that children are properly nurtured and protected. More broadly, President Biden’s proposals for expanded jobs programs, and for an expanded safety net, together with his success in addressing the COVID crisis and reopening the economy, are designed to improve the social and economic well-being of those least well-off in our society, all of which will help families and children.”

Biden began this historic program on behalf of American children with his COVID Relief Bill, which cut child poverty in half:

He then doubled down on his commitment to America’s Children in his infrastructure package, which he described to Congress last week:

The most astonishing detail of the plan is the expansion and redefinition of infrastructure to encompass the needs of working families and their children. Here Rep. Katie Porter defends this change in definition by telling MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle that “Child Care Is Infrastructure ‘Full Stop, Period’”:

However, the GOP response to this change has been very swift and direct. When Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., tweeted support for this shift to “human infrastructure:

She was widely mocked on the right by Ben Shapiro:

Ted Cruz:

and Donald Trump Jr.:

among many others.

Recently, best-selling author and potential GOP Senate candidate JD Vance got into the act, claiming that universal childcare was elitist:

While Hayes Brown breaks down the erroneous nature of Vance’s argument, it is a fairly concise expression of the GOP view when it comes any spending on America’s children. For the past several weeks, Republicans have been adamant that human infrastructure isn’t infrastructure. Here Sen. Barraso calls it a “Liberal Slush Fund”:

Sen. Thune says the infrastructure bill isn’t infrastructure:

Here former Trump WH Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney says childcare isn’t infrastructure:

Former Rep. Trey Gowdy says he has never heard of “human infrastructure”:

Tucker Carlson opens this segment by saying the Biden infrastructure bill is social engineering:

Of course, when the Senate GOP unveiled its $568 billion infrastructure proposal (which they never bothered to do when Trump was in charge and they had the Senate), all elements of human infrastructure were left out:

However, this is not some new line of attack developed by the GOP. They have literally been attacking spending on children for almost 50 years and repeating the exact arguments Nixon made in 1971 when he vetoed a national day care system for working parents.

History of Legislation for Children and Nixon’s Pivotal Veto

For the most part America has a fairly poor record when it comes to trying to improve the lives of its children. Often the concerns of children are seen as the stuff of First Ladies, who (with the exception of Melania Trump) appear on Sesame Street to promote the administration’s initiatives for kids. Here is Barbara Bush promoting literacy:

And Michelle Obama promoting healthy eating:

Nancy Reagan even traveled to the set of Different Strokes to promote her anti-drug advocacy to kids:

Sometimes, a President will get a Hollywood celebrity to promote their children’s initiatives instead of a First Lady. This is what President H.W. Bush did when he asked Arnold Schwarzenegger to lead his Council on Fitness:

Schwarzenegger aside, there was and continues to be a highly gendered element to the discussion of children in American politics. Advocacy for children was seen as the domain of women and very much dismissed by the male dominated DC political establishment which concerned themselves with “guy stuff” like war and finance. The result showed in American life — children are much more likely to be poor in America than adults:

And of course, child poverty leads to adult poverty:

There has been the occasional exception, such as when JFK funded special education for intellectually disabled children:

When President Obama signed Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act to end child hunger and malnutrition:

And when President Bill Clinton passed the landmark Family Medical Leave Act- which serves as the basis for the paid family leave in Biden’s plan:

But the only previous era before the Biden Presidency when children took center stage in the nation’s political life was the Great Society. A 2001 Urban Institute study found that federal expenditures on children in real (1997) dollars grew 246 percent between 1960 and 1997 from $48.6 billion to $168.5 billion, with spending on poor children rising 23-fold from $5.1 billion to $117.3 billion.

All of this was due to the continued funding of Great Society programs, such as Head Start, which was a crowning achievement of LBJ’s Presidency:

However, the most revolutionary legislation before Biden was in 1971 — the Comprehensive Child Development Bill put forward by the late Walter Mondale when he was a Senator from Minnesota. Here he is discussing the law and the overwhelming support for it:

Unfortunately, it ran into opposition by the Nixon White House, and the opposition was led by a young aide named Pat Buchanan who convinced Nixon to veto:

The argument that Buchanan makes lies at the heart of opposition to Biden’s human infrastructure — the idea that this is a threat to the traditional family where women stayed at home and provided the childcare herself. Another opponent of the law featured in the clip, Phyllis Schlafly, expresses her opposition to the idea of women having careers as advocated by feminists of the time:

This is pretty much the argument that J.D. Vance repeats against the push today — that it is an elitist push against stay at homes, even though there is nothing stopping any family from choosing that arrangement if they desire it. Rather it is the lack of affordable day care that is creating that outcome for working moms — and forcing them to stay at home is probably what conservatives have long sought.

Why the GOP Opposition Could Crumble

Right now, Biden’s initiatives have broad support. In fact, when it comes to universal childcare about three-quarters of all women surveyed favored the idea, including 68% of GOP women.

Internationally, these kinds of programs are passed, enacted and very popular. The Daily Show put together a brief compilation:

Finally, the best argument for Biden’s proposals seem to come from Republicans themselves. Megyn Kelly, for example, became quite the advocate for maternity leave when she had a baby, as Jon Stewart hilariously noticed:

And Fox’s Jesse Waters became an advocate of parental leave as well, when his wife had a baby, as Stephen Colbert pointed out:

If the law passes, people will love the results, as they have done for previous American legislation aimed at children, and as they do around the world. When a future Helen Lovejoy asks:

She will be thankful that Biden did exactly that.

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