Republicans applauded the Supreme Court’s recent decision to end the federal right to abortion, a change that will likely lead to more births and parental hardship. But that doesn’t mean the party is pushing for new policies to actually help these parents.
In recent years, Democrats have increasingly supported things like direct cash assistance or paid family leave. The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last month – presaged by a leak in May – hasn’t brought more Republicans on board.
“I’m not sure government can fix that,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said this week when asked if the federal government had a bigger role to play in helping parents in a post-Roe world.
“I’d be open to supporting families and family formation,” said Cornyn, a member of the Senate GOP leadership. “But that’s separate and apart from the abortion questions as far as I’m concerned.”
The Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization undid the court’s nearly five-decade-old opinion that guaranteed abortion rights, creating a patchwork of abortion access across the country. Millions of Americans in more than a dozen states are no longer able to obtain an abortion, and Republican lawmakers in some states are threatening to prohibit interstate travel to terminate a pregnancy.
Experts say the reversal of Roe will have a disproportionate impact on lower-income households and people of color. It could lead to a dramatic increase in the number of births. One health care consulting firm estimated there will be an additional 150,000 live births in the U.S. each year. There were 3.6 million U.S. births in 2021.
But many Republicans contend that the U.S. does enough to support families. They also bristle at the notion that their opposition to more federal assistance means they don’t support children.
“[Democrats] ignore the trillion dollars in benefits that are already sitting out there and what’s already being done and say unless you do another billion dollars more you really don’t love children. It’s absurd,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) told HuffPost.
Lankford said he favors stronger child support enforcement against deadbeat dads and making adoption easier.
Children have higher poverty rates than other age groups in the U.S., largely because the labor market does not accommodate parents. Other wealthy countries offer paid parental leave and a monthly child allowance; the U.S. has neither.
Democrats created a child allowance as part of the American Rescue Plan last year. For six months, parents received as much as $300 per child. Democrats planned to make the payments a permanent fixture of the welfare state, envisioning the policy as “Social Security for children,” but they failed to extend the policy as part of a broader social spending bill that collapsed under internal opposition.
Some Republican lawmakers have dabbled in family aid policy, offering various proposals before the Supreme Court gutted abortion rights. But none of them have gotten the backing of the party writ large.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) proposed an alternate version of the Democratic child allowance that would offset the program’s cost by consolidating other welfare policies. For Romney, part of the motivation for the policy would be to encourage people to have children, whereas Democrats have tended to focus more on reducing child poverty.
Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) recently joined Romney in proposing a new version of his bill, this one with a “pro-life” provision allowing expectant mothers to claim the child tax credit while they’re pregnant, before their children are born.
Burr, who is retiring, told HuffPost not to expect a surge of support for Romney’s bill now that federal law no longer protects abortion access. The main obstacle is that there’s not much incentive for Republicans to jump onto what would be a mainly Democratic bill when the Senate’s schedule this summer is already jammed with other legislation.
“There’s no compelling reason to get on something like that because there’s no pathway to get it passed,” Burr said.
A dozen Senate Republicans and 31 House Republicans cosponsored a symbolic bill that would solely allow expectant mothers to claim a tax credit for their baby before it’s born, as Romney’s proposal would do. But no additional lawmakers signed on to the legislation after the Supreme Court made its decision.
“There’s a lot of costs that happen in that first year” before a baby is born, said Lankford, one of the bill’s Senate co-sponsors. “Everyone ignores that year of buying the crib, buying clothes, getting diapers together, all that kind of stuff.”
Republicans also have authored several proposals that provide paid parental leave — though unlike Democratic plans, they do not offer direct federal assistance. Instead, the proposals allow working families to advance existing child tax credits or their Social Security benefits.
“I’d be open to supporting families and family formation... But that’s separate and apart from the abortion questions as far as I’m concerned.”
Joshua McCabe, a family economic security analyst at the centrist Niskanen Center, said there is a lot of energy among right-leaning wonks that could filter to lawmakers eventually.
“I do think the Dobbs decision lit a fire under some butts,” McCabe said.
Republicans tend to believe that reducing material hardship makes people less likely to work ― an economic ideology that seems to trump any desire to make life easier for parents.
“I think we ought to have safety nets,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said. “What I don’t want to do is put people in a position that able-bodied Americans are not working.”
To allay those concerns, Romney added a “work requirement” to his child allowance proposal, but he still hasn’t won over Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) or Mike Lee (Utah), who favor expanding the child tax credit for working parents.
Romney said he hasn’t tried reaching out across the aisle yet because he’s waiting for Democrats to finish negotiating among themselves on a new version of their “budget reconciliation” bill that previously included a child benefit fashioned from an expansion of the child tax credit.
“Assuming that child care or child tax credit is not part of the final package that Democrats come up with in reconciliation, then we will begin more extensive negotiations with Democrats,” Romney said.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) said he still hopes Democrats include a monthly child benefit in their reconciliation bill, but odds are slim. “If that doesn’t work, I think there’s going to be a bipartisan negotiation this year,” he said.
But Bennet suggested he didn’t think the Supreme Court would inspire Republicans to negotiate.
“I don’t think anything could make up for the damage of the Dobbs decision,” he said.