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Expel the Child Haters

Why does Congress hate children?

Sure, they’re loud. They tend to break things. They also demand an awful lot of our time. They get sniffly noses and become sick often—but then, that’s the point, isn’t it? They can’t take care of themselves. They need to see a physician both for regular checkups and when they are ill. It would make sense, therefore, to make sure that seeing a doctor is a relatively easy thing to do for all kids. And that there is enough money for them to eat. That they can go to a good school. That they grow up in a safe environment.

Many politicians also seem to ignore the fact that childhood is just a passing phase—that for the large majority of children, adulthood is an inevitability. So at some point, they will need jobs, will be eligible to vote and pay taxes, and may even be asked to take care of some of us in our old age. It would make sense to prepare them as best as possible for this extended phase of their lives.

In one of my earlier posts, I argued that our society no longer has a shared consensus on our basic governing principles. I recommended several different ways to reframe our thinking—to build on our existing constitutional framework with some modern ideas that hold more relevance. One such suggestion was to rally around the idea of “women and children first”. How could you take issue with that? Who could argue against children? Unfortunately, just as I feared in that post, the notion of what is best for children just serves to divide us.

How do we hate children? Let me count the ways. Read this column in US News and World Report, by Sara Mead, a partner with Bellwether Education Partners:, which outlines the following:

  • The tax bill just signed into law failed to enhance the child care tax credit. At current levels--$3,000 for one child and $6,000 for multiple children—this is insufficient to cover the actual costs of care

  • The tax plan is estimated to add at least $1 trillion to the federal budget deficit over the next 10 years, which means that funding for federal discretionary programs, such as child care and early education, is likely to go down. Indeed, Republicans in Congress are already talking about leveling the next phase in their two-pronged attack. Now that they’ve cut taxes on corporations and the wealthy, and thus starved future coffers, the hammer will come down on funds for needy children.

  • Congress neglected to continue funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). States are projected to run out of CHIP money at some point early in 2018. While the program has been temporarily extended and may hopefully be reauthorized, there is no guarantee. So right now, the families who depend on this program are facing a nerve-wracking uncertainty.

  • The tax bill’s limitation of state, local, and property tax deductions means that states and cities may feel pressure to lower taxes that fund programs such as pre-K, as well as school systems in general.

  • Starting in 2018, more taxpayers are likely to take the standard deduction, rather than itemizing their deductions. This is likely to reduce charitable donations, many of which are targeted toward poor children.

Then there is the extension of the Section 529 program, which now allows parents to withdraw up to $10,000 a year tax free to use for "public, private or religious elementary or secondary school" expenses. Previously this was only applicable to college savings. Although this is presented as a family-friendly provision that will provide children with more school choice options, the problem is that only families who are relatively well off are able to put away $10,000 in the first place. Moreover, it seems that nothing prevents families already sending their kids to private school from withdrawing $10,000 and thus shielding that money from taxes—which again means fewer funds for pre-k, education, health, etc.

Based on what I’ve just outlined, I need to rephrase my original question:

Why does Congress hate poor children?

Several reasons. They don’t vote. They have no organized interest group, form no PAC, contribute no lucrative source of campaign funding. Their parents live in other districts. And by the time they do reach voting age and realize they’ve been had, our current members of Congress will be long gone. This makes it a hell of a lot easier for politicians to pretend they care about children than it is to actually lend them a helping hand

Our country’s best bet going forward is to ensure that the day when these representatives leave their offices comes sooner rather than later. What can we do?

Voters: In this election year, make children—especially poor children—your number one priority, because policies that benefit them are not only morally just but good for society as a whole. I’m talking about education, economic development, health care, and regulatory protection. Children who grow up healthy, educated, and safe are far less likely to demand expensive services (incarceration, welfare, etc.) down the road.

Journalists: Each time you interview a Member of Congress, ask specifically what he/she has done and plans to do on behalf of children. If the only legislation they can point to is the 2017 tax bill, if they highlight deregulation, and if they boast about taking steps against the Affordable Health Care Act, then call them out as shills for corporate, privileged America.

Politicians: Your job is to ensure the future, and that starts with the youngest and most vulnerable of us. If you can’t even do that, then I wish you a speedy retirement. Happy 2018.

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