Don’t be fooled. The difference is way bigger than that. And it matters.
Both Clinton and Trump now say they want to help working parents pay for child care. But Clinton has been talking about this for nearly her entire career. Seriously. You can go back to 1990, when she was first lady of Arkansas and on the board of the Children’s Defense Fund, and she wrote an op-ed for The New York Times in which she talked about the virtues of the French child care system ― and argued for creating some kind of national program here.
Expanding funding for early childhood education was part of her agenda when she ran for president in 2008. And now, in 2016, she has proposed something more ambitious ― to make sure no family pays more than 10 percent of household income on child care.
Clinton hasn’t provided details on exactly how she’d do that, though she’s promised to do so soon. And it’s fair to take her to task for that, as The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell recently did, particularly since fully implementing such a scheme is sure to get expensive.
But Clinton’s campaign has signaled clearly that she would accomplish it through some combination of subsidized child care for the poor and tax credits for everybody else ― a realistic approach that builds on what President Barack Obama has proposed and think tanks like the Center for American Progress have proposed. And overall, according to a recent estimate by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Clinton has been responsible about identifying revenue to offset the cost of new programs.
Well, he came to this issue a bit later than Clinton did. Until a few months ago, he hadn’t said a word about child care ― unless you count statements from years ago in which he suggested childrearing is really women’s work. Then Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, said he would propose assistance for child care, and a few weeks ago he finally unveiled an actual proposal.
But the proposal takes a far different approach to the child care problem than Clinton does. Trump has said he would let people deduct the cost of child care from their taxes ― and that he’d let at-home parents do the same. That means he’s basically just offering all families with children a tax cut.
Which would be fine ― except that, like all tax cuts, it would give much bigger benefits to wealthier families, because people in higher tax brackets get a proportionately larger tax break. So people in higher brackets, who can generally afford child care already, would get big tax relief. But middle- and lower-income families, the ones who really struggle with child care, would get much less help.
Trump has said that the richest families would not be eligible for the tax deduction, which is true, but he set the cutoff so high ― $250,000 for single filers, $500,000 for couples ― that plenty of wealthy people would get a windfall. Although Trump has said he would offer an extra subsidy for the poor, the value of that subsidy, up to $1,200 per family, is much smaller and would not be nearly enough to help families in that income bracket get decent child care, let along the high quality care that wealthy families can get for their kids.
As the National Women’s Law Center noted recently, “Any proposal structured around tax deductions in this way will overwhelmingly benefit higher-income families while doing little for lower-income families who need the most assistance.”
Oh, and Trump has also proposed a whole new tax shelter, one that ― again ― would mostly benefit the rich. But you’re getting the idea.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.