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The Inside Story Behind Trump’s Childcare Plan

Ivanka Trump’s speech [1] to the Republican National Convention last July left many Republicans bewildered. With references to “equal pay for equal work” and the promise to make “quality childcare affordable and accessible for all,” some may have even thought they were at the wrong party’s convention.

Now, as the president’s daughter meets with lawmakers [2] on Capitol Hill to help craft the exact language of her childcare plan, a former campaign aide has come forward to reveal that the bewilderment included many within Trump’s own policy team.

“We received a paper from Ivanka, a couple pages—I wouldn’t even call it a memo, it was more of a stream of consciousness—that basically articulated Ivanka’s vision of what she wanted to do on childcare,” the former aide, who asked to remain anonymous, told me. “I was concerned, and others on the campaign were also startled because it seemed like it could have come right out of Hillary Clinton’s playbook.”

The former campaign aide was nonetheless assigned the job of converting Ivanka’s memo into a coherent policy proposal, so he dug into the research literature, drawing on many traditionally conservative policy sources. His conclusion was that America did indeed have a childcare crisis, although one caused by a multifaceted culmination of factors, from regulatory burdens to a changing family structure.

“The demographic Ivanka had in mind was not the one we were ultimately competing for in the general election,” the former aide told me. “She was really just responding to Manhattan and elite urban circles.”

He added, “The work-life balance stuff you read about in The Atlantic or wherever reflects the particular interests of the media class. But the real childcare crisis in this country, in my estimation, is not an elite issue. It’s really in the heartland where there’s fairly dramatic family breakdown happening, and dysfunction in the parenting realm.”

The final memo reflected the aide’s limited-government and family-centered principles: “Most of my recommendations pointed to a deregulatory approach that would get government out of this equation.” And with the sign-off from others in the DC office, the memo got sent to the New York office.

That’s where things took a left turn. “I don’t know exactly what the deliberations were, but they made it clear that it was unacceptable, so they took the issue out of my hands,” the former aide explained to me. Soon after, at a September press conference [3], President Trump unveiled the final, Ivanka-fied version of the plan, with his daughter by his side.

The former aide was disappointed. “It was just a total sell-out to everything that the left has been clamoring for,” he said in response to the unveiling.

Since then, many more details about the plan have come out. At an estimated cost of $500 billion over ten years, it allows families to deduct childcare expenses from their taxes, up to the average cost of childcare in each state. The proposal also includes a new tax-free savings vehicle for childcare expenses, and a smaller tax credit for low income families. In total, the authors of a Tax Policy Center report on the plan estimate [4] that families with children earning less than $40,000 per year “would see their after-tax income increase by a paltry $20 (less than 0.1 percent) on average.”

A far better approach [5]—one that would actually improve the family stability of low income and rural households—would be a simple cash-based child benefit, payable to all families with children regardless of income, and fully funded by consolidating the potpourri of existing federal childcare programs. As I detail in a recent paper [6] on the subject, countries like Canada that have followed this model have seen incredible progress in childhood health and well-being—and in a way that doesn’t discriminate against families with a stay-at-home parent.

Yet, recent reports [7] indicate Ivanka Trump is doubling down and demanding her childcare proposal be a non-negotiable part of tax reform. This could drive yet another wedge into an initiative already beset by intense internal disagreement. But who could be surprised? Far from representing any kind of coherent conservative ideology [8], the Trump administration is a spectacle of ad hoc initiatives going around in circles—a carousel of hobbyhorses, of which Ivanka’s mammoth childcare subsidy is just one.

Of course, it is not too late for Republican lawmakers to jump off the carousel and push for a genuinely conservative approach to childcare. “I would applaud a plan that cut the size of government, cut taxes, and moved the government out of the sphere of family relations,” the former aide told me. “But one of the things that becomes quite clear when you really dig into this childcare issue is how few of the stakeholders are guided, as a primary interest, by the well-being of children. Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising.”

Samuel Hammond is the poverty and welfare policy analyst for the Niskanen Center [9].

13 Comments (Open | Close)

13 Comments To "The Inside Story Behind Trump’s Childcare Plan"

#1 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 14, 2017 @ 11:33 pm

” Far from representing any kind of coherent conservative ideology, the Trump administration is a spectacle of ad hoc initiatives going around in circles—a carousel of hobbyhorses, of which Ivanka’s mammoth childcare subsidy is just one.’

Hmmm . . .

I agree that the current executive is not a conservative. But that is not saying much, there are very few conservatives and in Congress, I doubt there are but handful of genuinely “thoughtful” conservatives. What we have had over time is merely a redefining of the term to suit more comfortable shoes.

So no. Of course the current executive is not a “conservative” he didn’t campaign as one. He campaigned as someone who would not be hostile to conservatives. And while I must reject any further expansion of government that doesn’t press for parental control in all things, generally less government (a lot less), another program in which government serves as giver as opposed to mentor, I must reject it on its face. The only successful government oriented childcare provision (with a record of success) has never been repeated and won’t be.

Savings of twenty dollars is a savings, but I suspect that mom and dad would prefer to have a healthy income enough to afford child care or the traditional presence of one parent most of the time at home.

Unless there is some action being taken that is intent on hindering parents from childcare, the care of children is soley in the hands of parents and that includes provisions for childcare.

I think it is possible to disagree without every disagreement bundled into a characterization of the admin as something it was never fashioned to be — conservative.

This is situational leadership. It may be too early to rank it, but it certainly is not leadership at its worst.

#2 Comment By carr klaub On March 15, 2017 @ 12:10 am

thanks for the laugh of the day. Ivanka wants childcare so she thinks the Republicans will give it to her. That family-so funny!

#3 Comment By Mark Thomason On March 15, 2017 @ 7:17 am

Ivanka’s plan is not “mammoth.” It is mostly tax breaks. It would benefit mostly those whom Trump will give other tax breaks anyway.

#4 Comment By peanut On March 15, 2017 @ 8:17 am

From this liberal’s point of view, Ivanka’s “plan” is an atrocity, because it provides help to people who need it least, and has nothing for people who need it most. Add to this the new savings vehicle, and you had created yet another subsidy for the upper middle class. So, the universal cash benefit seems to as appealing to me as it would to a conservative (even though I’d like it to be progressive in shape, and would like to hear what folding all other forms of child assistance mean, in practice).

Still, the final paragraph of this story is amusing:
“I would applaud a plan that cut the size of government, cut taxes, and moved the government out of the sphere of family relations,” the former aide told me. “But one of the things that becomes quite clear when you really dig into this childcare issue is how few of the stakeholders are guided, as a primary interest, by the well-being of children. Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising.””

Um, given that his concern is a plan that “cut the size of government, cut taxes, and moved the government out of the sphere of family relation” why does this aide cast stones at others for not caring about children first?

#5 Comment By Kurt Gayle On March 15, 2017 @ 8:23 am

This Hammond/Orr/Verbruggen approach deserves wide support:

Hammond: ”A far better approach…would be a simple cash-based child benefit, payable to all families with children regardless of income, and fully funded by consolidating the potpourri of existing federal childcare programs…[and, linking to Robert Verbruggen’s endorsement of the Hammond/Orr proposal] would increase the Child Tax Credit from $1,000 to $2,000 per child and make it fully ‘refundable’ so that poor families can always receive it…[and receive] the money in monthly installments, rather than annually, to help these families balance their budgets on a regular basis.”

Verbruggen continues (TAC, Oct 31) that this approach “for one thing, hacks away at federal bureaucracy and paternalism, replacing it with a simple program that allows people the freedom to do what’s best for them. For another, it supports parents, whom many pro-family conservatives see as overtaxed—and it supports all parents equally, rather than targeting assistance to those who choose specific working or daycare arrangements, like child-care subsidies do.”

How about a Hammond/Orr/Verbruggen (HOV) overture to Ivanka Trump and the President – both of whom may actually be brought around to the tremendous advantages of the HOV proposal?

#6 Comment By Derek Johnson On March 15, 2017 @ 9:52 am

I love how this aide’s entire argument seems to be “Ivanka’s plan is bad because Democrats could get behind it.”

I also love how no matter the problem, no matter the policy issue, the default Republican response is to cut taxes (preferably for the wealthy) and somehow the rest will work itself out. It sounds like this is why the Trump people took the issue away from the aide. They asked him to come up with an actual policy that addresses the problem and he gave them a document that said “Tax Cuts.”

#7 Comment By Mark On March 15, 2017 @ 10:54 am

@Peanut, also note this from the aide –

‘“The demographic Ivanka had in mind was not the one we were ultimately competing for in the general election,” the former aide told me.’

The focus is on winning elections and getting to be or staying in power. Actually helping people care for their children is a means to an end not a goal in itself.

@EliteCommInc wrote:

“Savings of twenty dollars is a savings, but I suspect that mom and dad would prefer to have a healthy income enough to afford child care or the traditional presence of one parent most of the time at home.”

This. Yes, this.

#8 Comment By peanut On March 15, 2017 @ 11:00 am

“How about a Hammond/Orr/Verbruggen (HOV) overture to Ivanka Trump and the President – both of whom may actually be brought around to the tremendous advantages of the HOV proposal?

So, let’s do the math. A family making, say, 35K with 2 children will receive 4000$ a year, 350 a month from the program. In exchange, it will lose stuff like Head Start, school lunches, and other components of the federal poutpouri (I am presuming here that we are at least not touching C-SChIP). The average cost of daycare is 341, per week, or 1,364 per month, or 17,772 a year. So, the new streamlined benefit would require a family making 35K to fork out about 1/3 of its income on childcare, alone.

#9 Comment By PointBlank On March 15, 2017 @ 11:21 am

I like this conservative childcare plan, but it does seem like it would risk having opiate-addicted parents spend the subsidy on H rather than their children. Can someone allay these fears?

#10 Comment By OhhJim On March 15, 2017 @ 12:12 pm

I’m confused. Does the author want a plan that “cuts the size of government, cuts taxes, and moved the government out of the sphere of family relations”, or does he want a plan that focuses on the well-being of the children? What’s his primary concern?

#11 Comment By Tony D. On March 15, 2017 @ 1:02 pm

“…would be a simple cash-based child benefit, payable to all families with children regardless of income, and fully funded by consolidating the potpourri of existing federal childcare programs.”

Wait, free money from the government for all families with children is “conservative reform?” Aren’t you forgetting that in this country “conservative” means “every man for himself” libertarianism?

#12 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 15, 2017 @ 3:33 pm

” . . . cut taxes, and moved the government out of the sphere of family relation” why does this aide cast stones at others for not caring about children first?”

The mistake is the press of import. And yours reflect that which I as a conservative reject. That any involvement by government into the lives of parents gives government via its multiple tentacles leverage over grow parents raise their children.

With government, it never just this, eventually there;s a that and this and soon they start dictating the internals lest one lose the advantage of cafe.

As a new mother I have no doubt that Mrs Kushner’s motives are genuine. And no doubt she’s a woman of force of will. But good intentions paved the way for a many of needless and troublesome programs that eventually are mis managed unweildly and cost more than they benefit.

I would prefer that the admin stick to its most obvious tool. Improving the over-burdensome cost and size of government by improving its efficiency.

Before cutting taxes, it might be a good idea to inform, what the offsets are.

#13 Comment By peanut On March 15, 2017 @ 4:29 pm

“The focus is on winning elections and getting to be or staying in power. Actually helping people care for their children is a means to an end not a goal in itself.”

And you know what? It’s ok. Parties should try to make the lives of their electorates better. Which is why Trumpcare, which basically takes from Trump’s voters and gives to Hillary’s voters, is such a monstrosity, on both substantial and political grounds.