The Corner

Politics & Policy

Everyone Should Support Mitt Romney’s Child-Poverty Plan

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks to the media after meeting with President-elect Donald Trump in Bedminster, N.J., November 19, 2016. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Stripped of all euphemism, government is nothing more than organized violence. That’s why we should all want less of it in our lives. But contrary to what Thomas Paine once said (and what President Reagan was fond of repeating, to the great consternation of George Will), we don’t in fact have it in our power to make the world over again. We’ve inherited a Leviathan in the form of our vast federal government, and we can’t pull the plug on it all at once. Americans should be content to see bad spending replaced by good spending in the meantime, so long as the former really is replaced, rather than simply added to.  

Mitt Romney’s Family Security Act would accomplish just that. It would fuse “overlapping and often duplicative” federal programs into a single monthly payment administered by the Social Security Agency. By repealing more-numerous and complex federal aid programs, Romney’s plan would also be deficit-neutral. It’s more like an efficient reform of federal funds that are currently being spent unwisely than a new spending proposal. By simplifying the means of access, the plan would also relieve the often-byzantine administrative burden on poor families trying to take advantage of the welfare assistance that taxpayers provide.

In concrete terms, Romney’s reform would provide monthly benefits of $350 to young children, beginning a few months before birth, and $250 a month to school-aged kids. Senators Rubio and Lee recently came out against the bill. In a joint statement, they wrote that they “do not support turning the Child Tax Credit into what has been called a ‘child allowance,’ paid out as a universal basic income to all parents. That is not tax relief for working parents; it is welfare assistance.” 

Rubio and Lee’s criticism is incredibly dishonest. In their statement, they try to neatly juxtapose their own preference for tax relief with Senator Romney’s supposed enthusiasm for welfare spending. But they completely ignore the reforms to the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit that are proposed in the Family Security Act. 

At present, for instance, the Earned Income Tax Credit is designed surgically to assist single parents. Targeting this particular demographic, it also places a heavy tax burden on working-class marriages. Romney’s reforms would simplify the EITC into a generalized incentive to work, which would be great for married families who are less well-off. As Lyman Stone summarizes in this excellent thread, Rubio and Lee seem oblivious to the fact that Romney’s EITC reforms actually fix a worrying welfare cliff that already exists: the strain that the EITC in its current form puts upon millions of working-class marriages. Stone also points out the fact that under Romney’s proposals, the point of annual income at which marriage becomes a clear and obvious economic boon is lowered from around $28,000 to around $12,000. 

In sum, the Family Security Act alleviates child poverty, is deficit-neutral, incentivizes marriage among working-class Americans, and either abolishes or reforms various ill-thought-out and profligate welfare programs. So long as none of these things are taken off the table during negotiations, there’s no good reason for any lawmaker in Washington to oppose this legislation. 

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