Conn Carroll thinks that Senators Lee and Rubio are making a mistake by trying to expand the tax credit for children, which would benefit “just a few select Americans.” Instead they should cut payroll taxes for everyone who works. Among voters, the core beneficiaries of an expanded child credit would be married parents. Carroll notes that “the Republican Party already has a lock on married households with kids. In 2012, Mitt Romney won the married with children vote 54–45 percent. Meanwhile, Obama won unmarried Americans 62–35 percent. Why are Lee and Rubio so intent on running up the margins among married voters with children?”
I’d like to see a lower payroll tax too. But I’m not convinced that it should be pursued to the exclusion of tax relief for families, for a few reasons.
First: Cutting the payroll tax would not address the double taxation of parents, where expanding the child credit would. Leaving aside the politics, that is, there’s a case on the merits for expanding the credit.
Second: Cutting the payroll tax does not seem to have broader appeal in polls than expanding the child credit—although the data we have are pretty limited.
Third: If Republicans propose to cut the payroll tax, they will open themselves up to the criticism that they are endangering Social Security and Medicare. Depending on how the revenue is made up, that charge may not be true. But it is much less likely to arise in the first place in response to proposals to expand the child credit.
Fourth: Republicans can and should do better among married parents than they did in 2012. George W. Bush got 59 percent of their votes in 2004, 5 points more than Romney. It’s probably more relevant, though, to look at all voters with minor children in the home. Bush won them 53–45 where Romney lost them 47–51.
None of this necessarily means that Republicans should accept the current level of payroll taxation. But I think the case for pursuing an expanded child credit is stronger than the case for seeking payroll tax cuts.