His budget plan stalled in Congress, Biden pitches child care expansion

·6-min read

With negotiations on his domestic agenda continuing in Congress, President Biden took to the road Friday to pitch the importance of improving government-funded child care programs in the U.S.

"When you give working families a break, we’re not just raising their quality of life, we’re positioning our country to compete in the future," he said in remarks delivered at a child care center in Hartford, Conn.

An outlier among wealthy nations when it comes to government child care spending on toddlers, the U.S. trails first-place Norway by nearly $30,000 spent per child annually. Biden and the White House have been citing rankings from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that place the U.S. 35th out of 37 countries in the amount of public investment in early childhood education and care.

The president opened his remarks on Friday by discussing his own experience as a single father following the death of his wife and young daughter shortly after he became a senator, saying, "A lot of people are in desperate need of a facility like this and child care.” He said he hadn't appreciated the importance of it as a young county councilman but that things changed following the accident soon after he was first elected to the Senate in 1972.

President Joe Biden speaks during a visit to the Capitol Child Development Center, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, in Hartford, Conn. (Evan Vucci/AP)
President Biden on a visit to the Capitol Child Development Center in Hartford, Conn., on Friday. (Evan Vucci/AP)

“I was making a decent salary as a U.S. senator, $42,000 a year — and that was a decent salary, and I could not afford child care,” Biden continued. “Everybody wonders why I commuted every day, 265 miles a day, to be back and forth with my children. I could afford the train. It was cheaper to be able to take every day so I could kiss my boys."

The high cost of such programs has caused some parents to leave the workforce to care for their children, yet child care workers often do not make a living wage. Democrats have proposed lowering child care costs for parents while increasing pay for providers. Similarly, Biden’s new plan would create a universal pre-K program for children ages 3 and 4, increasing the number of years of public education.

Additionally, Democrats are hoping to extend the expanded child tax credit, which was passed in March as part of the American Rescue Plan. If an extension is passed, most Americans would receive up to $300 per month per child under the age of 17. Because the credit is fully refundable, even the lowest-income families who make too little to pay taxes would receive the full benefit.

In August, the Center on Poverty & Social Policy at Columbia University found that the addition of the child tax credit payments paid in July pulled 3 million children out of poverty. Because not everyone who is eligible for the credit is receiving it — an issue the Internal Revenue Service and local groups are working to address — the analysis estimated that the credit would reduce child poverty even further, adding that “the greatest gains [would] be realized for Black and Latino children." If the credit is not extended in the budget deal, the new features of the program — larger payments delivered monthly to more Americans —will expire.

A child holda a banner welcoming US President Joe Biden to the Capitol Child Development Center in Hartford, Connecticut, on October 15, 2021. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)
A child holds a banner welcoming the president to the child care center in Hartford on Friday. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

In order for the budget deal to pass in the Senate, all 50 members who caucus with the Democrats must be in agreement over its provisions. Biden has repeatedly stated that he has 48 senators on board with the agenda, but centrist Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona remain holdouts.

Manchin has said he doesn’t want to promote an “entitlement culture” and would like to tie any extension of the tax credits to work or education requirements. He has also stated he is in favor of limiting the number of Americans eligible for the credits. Axios reported last week that Manchin told his colleagues to pick just one of the three Biden proposals — the expanded child tax credit, subsidies for child care or paid family medical leave — to put into the bill.

During Thursday’s briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki underscored that the president remains ardent in his wish to have comprehensive child care support as part of his infrastructure agenda. Psaki wouldn’t say, however, that child care provisions represent a “red line” for the president in terms of budget negotiations.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hinted in a Monday letter to colleagues that she was hesitant to acquiesce to moderates like Manchin who wish to slash Biden’s agenda via the budget deal. So far, however, the size of the package has already shrunk by $1 trillion from the White House’s initial $3.5 trillion top-line figure.

“Overwhelmingly, the guidance I am receiving from Members is to do fewer things well so that we can still have a transformative impact on families in the workplace and responsibly address the climate crisis: a Build Back Better agenda for jobs and the planet For The Children,” Pelosi wrote.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., conducts her weekly news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center where she discussed the House vote on debt ceiling on Tuesday, October 12, 2021. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday at her weekly news conference. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images)

On Tuesday, Pelosi said her caucus was committed to keeping universal pre-K, tuition-free community college and the child tax credit in the final framework.

“We have some important decisions to make in the next few days so that we can proceed. I'm very disappointed that we're not going with the original $3.5 trillion, which was very transformative, but whatever we do, we will make decisions that will continue to be transformative about women in the workplace,” Pelosi said Friday.

Biden acknowledged in his remarks Friday that he would be forced to make budget concessions.

“To be honest with you, we’re probably not going to get 3.5 trillion,” he said. “We’re going to get something less than that.”

In recent days, the White House has grown frustrated with Congress’s inability to pass the president’s infrastructure package, according to multiple reports. Psaki indicated Thursday that Biden is “eager to deliver” on his promises. With the president’s approval ratings having fallen in recent weeks, Democrats are increasingly worried about the midterm elections next year and are growing more anxious about the need to notch a legislative win for the administration.

Budget Committee Chairman and key progressive negotiator Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has grown publicly frustrated with the dwindling timeline to salvage a budget compromise.

"The time is now," Sanders said during a press call Tuesday. "This to me is not negotiable, this is what the American people want."

President Joe Biden greets children as he visits the Capitol Child Development Center, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, in Hartford, Conn. (Evan Vucci/AP)
Biden at the Hartford child care center. (Evan Vucci/AP)

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