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Build Back Better: Confused on Childcare

November 7th, 2021 by dk

Much has been written about Republicans messaging better than Democrats. Almost no one explains why that is. Simply put, Democrats have an additive culture. Their instinct is to add more elements to please more constituents. Republicans regularly pare any proposal back to its essence.

Take childcare as an example, because it figures prominently in President Biden’s Build Back Better package. It features four programs to benefit children, but in competing and self-contradictory ways.

Democrats want to extend the pandemic-inspired Child Tax Credit. It has slashed child poverty in half by sending direct payments to families raising kids. They also initially proposed 12 weeks of paid family leave, which is common in most other advanced economies. 

Each of these programs would make it easier for a parent to be home with their child. Meanwhile, two other proposed programs would do the opposite — sending children out of the home for care and instruction.

Universal pre-kindergarten has been on the liberal agenda for decades. Biden’s proposal would start public education for three- and four-year-olds. Coupled with subsidized daycare, Biden’s original plan promised to save a typical American family $27,800 per year in childcare costs.

Can you see the contradictions here? Parents would be allowed to take several months off from work to stay home with a newborn, while the child’s siblings are sent off to daycare or pre-K. Who is best suited to care for young children — parents or professionals? Which is it, Democrats?

This may sound like Republican talking points, but the internal contradictions are there to be exposed.

The technocratic solution is to outsource child-rearing to professionals as soon as possible. It’s more efficient. It can be regulated. It levels the playing field. It meets an immediate need. (In most states, the cost of childcare is now more than in-state tuition at the local public university.)

The opposite tack would give families the amount currently earmarked for pre-K and childcare subsidies, greatly expanding the Child Tax Credit. Would it be enough to make single-earner households viable again? Having a stay-at-home parent increases a child’s chance for success as much as early education interventions.

Democrats could help families raise their own children, providing the resources to make that possible. Even if Republicans refused to join the effort, dubious debates about Critical Race Theory would disappear. Parents would feel less exhausted and less frightened. With less financial stress, marriages might even be saved.

Scouting and neighborhood youth programs have been shrinking because families have less free time, but also because adults are not available to volunteer. Neighborhoods are more vibrant when children are home and wanting to play together with other kids on the block. Families become acquainted through their children.

The question must be what’s best for the children? You could characterize Democrats’ childcare conundrum this way: cash or credit? They could give families cash so they have time and energy to raise their own children. But then they wouldn’t be able to take credit for those children’s later success.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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