What Happened to the GOP Being the ‘Pro-Family’ Party?

Senators Mike Lee and Marco Rubio are for bringing children into this world, but against helping them survive it

What Happened to the GOP Being the ‘Pro-Family’ Party?
Photo: Drew Angerer/Stringer/Getty Images

Originally published in GEN

On Thursday, Senator Mitt Romney proposed the Family Security Act, a monthly cash benefit for children. The proposal, tucked inside the Biden administration’s pending $1.9 trillion stimulus package, is pretty simple: It eliminates the child tax credit, a government assistance program for income earners. The tax credit would be replaced with cash.Parents receive payments based on each child’s age — infants and children up to five years old get a $350 monthly payment; children ages six to 17 get $250 a month. Families earning above a high threshold still receive the monthly payments, but pay them back with their taxes.

The universal nature of the proposal is terrific and should be uncontroversial. Means testing, where access to safety-net services comes with conditions, is just another way for the vulnerable to get left behind. It is nearly impossible to navigate a bureaucratic labyrinth while working two jobs and raising children. A universal payout like Romney’s gets to everyone. And it would make a difference. According to the Niskanen Center, a moderate-leaning think tank based in Washington, D.C., Romney’s plan would “reduce U.S. child poverty by roughly one third.” With his plan, 50% of children in the grip of “deep poverty” would be freed from its apathetic grasp.

Romney’s plan is not perfect. It caps benefits, which will harm large families. The plan’s phaseout at higher income levels is more cumbersome bureaucracy. We should just rely on taxes to get the payments back from high-income families. But still, Romney’s plan is better than Biden’s current plan. This full-time caretaking mother of three is heartened by it. Motherhood in America is a multilevel marketing scheme. Unpaid labor, done nearly exclusively by women, holds the pyramid up. Republicans, the ostensible party of family and faith, should be on board with fellow Republican Mitt Romney’s proposal. It’s pro-family legislation. I hope to be surprised by many of them. I was not surprised by Senator Mike Lee or Senator Marco Rubio.

In a joint response to the Family Security Act, Sens. Mike Lee and Marco Rubio said in a joint statement, “An essential part of being pro-family is being pro-work. Congress should expand the Child Tax Credit without undercutting the responsibility of parents to work to provide for their families.”

This is so awkward because I thought I was a working parent. While the work I do at home is unpaid, it is work that provides. It’s also work that the country needs caretakers — professionals and parents alike — to do and do well. We are raising the children who will fund our social security. Our children will also pay Lee and Rubio’s taxpayer-funded pension. What I do is work; the homesphere is equal to the marketsphere. My work deserves to be economically valued. Pay me for my work and I can provide in a way the joint senators find acceptable.

But let’s meet Lee and Rubio on the patriarchal ground they stand. What if they’re right? Let’s say parents only deserve government assistance, which is what a tax break is, if they’re employed. Fine, then we need more parents to work outside the home to qualify for that assistance. Caretakers, especially work-at-home caretakers, are overwhelmingly women. What could possibly be constraining them from the workforce? It’s a mystery!

In her book Invisible Women Caroline Criado Perez writes, “Globally, 75% of unpaid labor is done by women.” Women average three to six hours a day of unpaid work while men average 30 minutes to two hours. The unpaid work of raising children and building communities gets in the way of women’s paid work. If we want them to work outside the home, Perez continues, “it’s clear that they have to reduce women’s unpaid work. McKinsey found that a decrease in the time British women spend doing unpaid work from five to three hours correlated with a 10% increase in their paid labor-force participation.”

Do you know what parents — mothers and fathers — need to reduce their unpaid work? They need childcare. Tough cookies for the average want-to-be-working parent, because childcare is very expensive! Infant care outstripsthe cost of housing in much of America. In a turn of truly American events, the parents most gutted by the cost of childcare are childcare workers.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, “In 32 states, center-based infant care costs are equal to more than one-third of typical preschool worker earnings. In other words, a preschool worker’s entire pay in those states from January through at least April would be consumed by infant care costs.” You know what would help those childcare workers continue to work watching other people’s children? You guessed it! Some money so they can pay for their own children’s care. Like, say, $350 a month, per kid.

Kids! Let’s get back to the kids, shall we? While Lee and Rubio focused on the parents, this isn’t a parent allowance. It’s a child allowance. Matt Bruenig, founder of the People Policy Project, wryly noted in response to their statement, “It’s true that kids don’t work.” But kids do need health care, childcare, food, and shelter. I propose the radical notion that kids need all those things whether their parents are working or not! Lee and Rubio should be all for protecting kids from poverty. Just look at these neat quotes from them:

“Governments exist for the purpose of protecting life, liberty, and property. Few could dispute that, among these essential interests, the need to protect life is paramount.” — Senator Mike Lee

“I believe that every single human being is entitled to the protection of our laws, whether they can vote or not. Whether they can speak or not. Whether they can hire a lawyer or not. Whether they have a birth certificate or not.” — Senator Marco Rubio

Passing the Family Security Act would begin to protect children from food insecurity, housing insecurity, and the unremitting toll of poverty. But neither Lee nor Rubio was talking about protecting children after they’re born. Those quotes are about protecting children, apparently exclusively, before they take their first breath. They’re not pro-life, they’re pro-birth. They are for bringing children into this world but against helping them survive it. My goodness, Senators Mike Lee and Marco Rubio have chosen quite a work.