WASHINGTON ― In an odd spectacle on Sunday, Senate Democrats argued among themselves and overwhelmingly voted against one of their own top policy priorities before coming together to pass one of the landmark bills of Joe Biden’s presidency.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) tried to amend the bill to include an extension of the monthly child allowance that Democrats enacted on a temporary basis last year, but couldn’t continue due to opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
“Pathetically, the United States has the highest child poverty rate of almost any major country on Earth,” Sanders said. “Unfortunately for the millions of working parents who benefited from this program, it expired in December.”
Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Michael Bennet (D-Col.), two of the strongest proponents of the child tax credit, rose in opposition to Sanders’ amendment ― not because they didn’t like it, but because its adoption would have jeopardized the cheaper prescription drugs and billions for green energy promised by the Inflation Reduction Act.
“I ask my great colleagues to vote no because this will bring the bill down,” Brown said.
Nevertheless, Sanders persisted, asking Brown to explain how the child tax credit would harm the broader bill. Brown said that all 50 Senate Democrats supported the legislation and suggested that adding the child tax credit would cost them their unanimity.
“We know that this is a fragile arrangement, and we’ve got to pass it,” Brown said.
As the Senate’s presiding officer explained Brown’s time was up, the gravelly-voiced Ohio Democrat could be heard on C-SPAN grumbling about his colleague: “Come on, Bernie,” he said.
The Sanders amendment then failed by a vote of 97 to 1 ― one of dozens of amendments rejected by the Senate.
The expanded child tax credit Democrats created in 2021 paid parents as much as $300 per child each month. For six months, the credit dramatically reduced child poverty and gave American parents a taste of the kind of child allowance that for decades has been a standard part of the welfare state in other rich countries.
But Manchin complained that parents in his state wasted the money on drugs, and refused to go along with a bill continuing the benefit as part of the “Build Back Better” agenda after 2021.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) continued negotiating with Manchin on the parts of Build Back Better that he could support, such as investments in green energy and allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drugs, and their talks ultimately resulted in the Senate passing the Inflation Reduction Act on Sunday.
Bennet said Sunday he would work with “people on both sides of the aisle” to make the enhanced child tax credit permanent, but it remains to be seen whether a critical mass of Republicans would ever support a monthly allowance for parents.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) has proposed a different version of the Democrats’ child tax credit with the cost of the program offset by consolidating and eliminating other safety net programs, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Romney’s proposal would also exclude benefits for parents with no incomes, likely blunting some of its antipoverty impact.
Romney has had informal conversations with Bennet and Brown and said he thought more formal negotiations could begin after the Senate’s August recess. He also said he thought he could win over more than the two Republicans who had signed on to his proposal so far.
“We’re not in a big hurry,” Romney told HuffPost. “We anticipate that this will probably be a number of months before something like this gets adopted.”
The White House has “shown interest” in his proposal, Romney said, but he didn’t know if President Biden would support it. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
It’s not clear how much energy there will be to strike another bipartisan deal after senators previously collaborated on gun control and subsidies for the domestic computer chip industry. Republicans may prefer to avoid giving Biden another legislative victory ahead of midterm elections that could boost their ranks in the House and Senate.
Romney wouldn’t say if he thought the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and the loss of abortion access for millions of women, would spur more Republicans to support parents.
“I think it’s important for our party to talk about not just poverty but about family and encouraging helping families that are having children,” Romney said.