The Corner

Politics & Policy

The Romney Plan

Sen. Mitt Romney walks through the subway system at the U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C., December 17, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

I’ve been meaning to briefly lay out why I think Mitt Romney’s new Family Security Act is a good idea and the right direction for family policy. But between them, Ramesh Ponnuru and Ross Douthat have made the case I’d make, and made it better and more fully than I could. Read what they’ve written — they’re right.

I would only add that I think it is going to be important for those who have raised objections to the plan out of a concern about its effects on the incentive to work to really lay out their case in some detail. That objection deserves to be heard, and may call for changes to the proposal. But from what I’ve seen of it so far, it seems to me that it underplays the way in which the design of the proposal’s phaseout of benefits avoids creating a familiar set of work disincentives and the way the proposal’s reforms of the EITC do as well.

As far as I can see, Romney’s proposal does a better job of fixing some (unintentional but meaningful) disincentives to marriage in the existing welfare and work-support system than any prior attempt to do so, and it manages that with relatively little disincentive to work. That could be wrong. It’s impossible to quite know without seeing this kind of proposal in action in the real world, of course, but it would be possible to have a better sense of it with some further attempts to model its effects. The proposal’s champions and critics should do that work and see where they land.

That kind of effort should inform how this idea evolves and develops. But this idea should evolve and develop, and it should become the foundation for the next phase of debates about welfare and family policy. Its ends and its means, as well as the way in which it pays for the important support it offers to parents, offer a promising path for the post-Trump right and also for some cross-partisan agreement and bargaining.

Developing and debating ideas like this is how the right should draw meaningful political and policy lessons from the past several years while putting behind it the debased circus and ugly cult of personality that made it impossible to do anything constructive with such lessons. We should hope for more of this kind of translation of the constructive side of populism into policy.

Yuval Levin is the director of social, cultural, and constitutional studies at the American Enterprise Institute and the editor of National Affairs.

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