Politics & Policy

The Sinister Sanders Child-Care Plan

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign town hall meeting in Portsmouth, N.H., November 24, 2019. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
Aside from being outlandishly expensive, the plan is an exercise in social engineering.

Bernie Sanders announced a “universal child care” proposal at the end of his wide-ranging 60 Minutes interview with Anderson Cooper. The plan would guarantee “every child in America free full-day, full-week, high-quality child care from infancy through age three,” and the campaign estimates that it would cost taxpayers 1.5 trillion dollars over ten years. But aside from being prohibitively expensive and distressingly vague, the plan looks an awful lot like social engineering.

Start with the price tag. After failing to explain how he would pay for his expansive agenda — “I can’t rattle off to you every nickel and every dime,” Sanders told Anderson Cooper in a disastrous moment of candor — the Sanders campaign released a partial list of pay-fors the day after the interview, laying out the cost of the senator’s major proposals alongside the tax hikes a Sanders administration would pursue to finance its domestic agenda. The campaign pegged the child-care proposal at a $150 billion annual price tag, more expensive than current federal outlays on unemployment insurance and the SNAP program combined.

Add the child-care initiative to the bevy of programs Sanders has already promised to enact as president, and the fiscal feasibility of a child-care proposal grows more uncertain.

The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget released their analysis of Sanders’s universal child-care plan yesterday, and raised concerns that the Sanders campaign was overestimating federal receipts from its proposed “tax on extreme wealth”:

Based on the work of economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, the Sanders campaign estimates this wealth tax would raise $4.35 trillion. This would be enough to finance Senator Sanders’s $1.5 trillion universal child care and pre-K plan, his $2.5 trillion housing plan, and $350 billion of his Medicare for All plan (note that our analysis previously assumed he would dedicate $800 billion, not $350 billion, to Medicare for All).

In our assessment, however, Senators Sanders’s wealth tax is likely to raise significantly less than advertised due to high levels of tax avoidance and the erosion of taxable wealth over time. We believe the wealth tax is likely to raise roughly $3.3 trillion. Assuming the proceeds are distributed evenly, that would leave the universal child care and pre-K plan nearly $400 billion short.

As a point of reference, that $400 billion shortfall is larger than the sum total currently allotted to all federal welfare programs combined.

While Sanders’s innumeracy was perhaps to be expected, the senator’s defense of the child-care plan on the merits was surprising. For a candidate with well-documented disdain for corporate America, it was strange to see how much of Sanders’s child-care proposal was concerned with the “career outcomes” of “mothers” who — heaven forfend — make “career sacrifices in order to care for their children.” The Sanders campaign presents female labor participation growth as one of the central selling points for its child-care scheme: “Mothers,” the campaign proclaims, “are 40 percent more likely than fathers to report a negative impact on their career outcomes due to child care considerations,” making the institution of a government-funded child-care scheme a “moral responsibility.” The campaign presents the welfare of the children whose stay-at-home parents enter the workforce as an ancillary concern.

The Sanders campaign hardly seemed to consider — or, worse, seemed to have considered and proceeded to ignore — the possibility that those mothers making “career sacrifices” might want to raise their own children. As a 2015 Gallup poll found, 56 percent of mothers with children under the age of 18 said they would rather remain at home than enter the workforce, if given the choice. Instead, the socialist appears eager to incentivize more mothers to join the workforce, whereupon they will be presumably “exploited” by the “greedy” corporations the senator has spent a lifetime deriding.

Most alarming is the power the senator’s plan vests in the federal government to insert itself into the child-rearing process. Sanders proposes a one-size-fits-all, government-funded child-care model, with no provision for those parents who wish to remain at home. If the Sanders campaign were simply concerned about the costs associated with raising children — both in the home and at a day-care center — it could have proposed a subsidy that also conferred benefits to stay-at-home parents or to relatives providing child care. But the social-engineering component of the plan is unmistakable, as Sanders would essentially create a scheme to augment the “career outcomes” of mothers who might otherwise raise their children at home, thereby boosting enrollment in government-funded child-care centers. Of course, all of those child-care centers will be subject to “quality standards” concocted in Washington.

The implications of Sanders’s child-care agenda are clear enough. Right in the heart of the proposal, the Sanders campaign acknowledges that “ages 0 through 4 are the most important years of human life intellectually and emotionally.” Parents ought to be the ones to impart their values to their children in such a formative window, not a Sanders-administration functionary.

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