Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
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- Conservatives overturned Roe v. Wade, causing some to pressure the party to back financially supporting families.
- The GOP opposed Biden’s agenda, and a Trump effort to get paid leave through Congress fell flat.
- Conservative policy experts argue Republicans must soften its usual opposition to family support programs.
The Supreme Court took a blowtorch to the constitutional right to abortion on Friday, delivering a monumental victory to conservative activists who labored to overturn Roe v. Wade for a half-century. Abortion is poised to be severely restricted or banned in about half of all states with few exceptions.
Last week’s ruling also cast a harsh glare on the GOP. For a party that has long cast its priorities as pro-life, Republicans put in minimal effort in recent years to ensure children enjoy a basic standard of living once they’re born.
The GOP lined up in fierce opposition to President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan, which contained ambitious initiatives to establish affordable childcare, set up universal pre-K, and overhaul the child tax credit so it was paid out monthly. In early 2020, President Donald Trump endorsed a modest bipartisan paid leave plan that fell flat with Republican lawmakers.
It’s prompting some conservatives to urge their party to soften its usual resistance to financially supporting parents and children. Abby McCloskey, a conservative policy expert who worked on past GOP and independent presidential campaigns, called it a “soul-searching moment” for the GOP.
“There’s parts of the party that have wanted to break forward and do more types of reforms in the paid leave, child tax credit and childcare space,” McCloskey told Insider. “I think that they should get behind those policies quickly, especially because many in the Republican Party were championing the overturning of Roe and here we are,” she said.
Another warned of a possible backlash at the ballot box in November. “I think there will be some backlash regardless,” Patrick Brown, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think-tank, said in an interview. “But I think it’ll be much more severe if they are seen as out of touch and not responding to particularly low income women.”
Brown argues that Republicans should support making permanent a temporary pandemic-era expansion of Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program so it covers mothers for a year after giving birth, among other steps. And McCloskey argues Congress should make it easier for states to spend money on childcare.
Some Senate Republicans are also starting to identify areas that the party can act on. “We need to provide parents the resources they need to raise a healthy family,” Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said in a statement to Insider. “That includes responsible parental leave, access to mental health care when needed, and school choice.”
What’s on the table among Republicans
Republican Sens. Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio unveiled paid leave legislation with GOP Reps. Dan Crenshaw and Ann Wagner in 2019.
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The United States is among the stingiest nations in the developed world when it comes to federal spending on children. Compared to other countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the US spends far less as a percentage of its gross domestic product on family benefits.
“When you look at American spending on children, it is much more comparable to middle-income countries like Turkey and Mexico than it is to wealthy European countries,” Indivar Dutta-Gupta, executive director at the Center for Law and Social Policy, told Insider. “So we have been an outlier in many ways.”
The high court’s decision highlighted a frail social safety net in states on the verge of outlawing or restricting abortion, chiefly led by Republicans. States like Mississippi tend to lack paid leave and refused to expand Medicaid, leaving many low-income women without access to health insurance and post-partum coverage, according to the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. A few states are reversing course.
There are some Republican proposals designed to reinforce the ability of parents to spend time caring for babies or newly adopted children. But they often carry sizable strings attached, reflecting the conservative approach of binding federal benefits to employment. That’s combined with the GOP’s tendency to redirect federal funds from existing programs instead of spending new money.
“Republicans have historically been more skeptical of these benefits,” Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, told Insider. “If the polling starts to go south after Roe, you could see Republicans rallying around some sort of child benefit package before the election.”
In 2020, President Donald Trump endorsed a bipartisan paid-leave plan that went nowhere with the GOP.
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Most GOP lawmakers are doubling down on pummeling the Biden administration for inflation and rising prices at the gas pump and grocery store ahead of the November midterms. They’re strongly favored to recapture at least one chamber of Congress. However, some polls suggest there’s increased support for Democrats on the Congressional generic ballot in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Republicans haven’t coalesced around a set of family support plans. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah recently unveiled a rebooted proposal to provide most parents with up to $350 in monthly checks per kid, totaling $4,200 annually for younger children. But a larger share of the cash benefit would flow to working parents and shrink payments to those without jobs.
“One of the most direct ways that the GOP can support families would be to provide parents with direct cash support,” Samuel Hammond, director of social policy at the libertarian Niskanen Center, told Insider. “So for this sort of whole life agenda, it makes an awful lot of sense to ensure vulnerable parents in particular have the resources they need to both choose to keep their child and then after are able to properly care for it.”
That hasn’t gained steam so far among Republicans. A separate measure spearheaded by Sen. Steve Daines of Montana would allow pregnant mothers to claim the child tax credit, issuing up to $2,000 before giving birth provided they have taxable income. It has much deeper GOP support with 12 Republicans joining Daines as co-sponsors — or a roughly a quarter of the Senate Republican conference.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida introduced a “pro-life” framework shortly after the Supreme Court threw out Roe v. Wade. “For years, I have emphasized that Congress can and must do more for unborn children and their mothers,” Rubio said in a statement. “We need to adopt pro-life policies that support families, rather than destroy them.”
The blueprint contains a variety of plans that Rubio has pushed for several years. One measure within it allows new parents to treat Social Security like a piggy bank and borrow against themselves. It would provide parents with at least three months of paid leave, financed with cuts to their future retirement benefits.
Democrats balk at these trade-offs, preferring to push generous social benefits funded with tax increases on the richest Americans. Some are stepping up attacks on Republicans for opposing them without offering what they view as serious alternatives.
“Universal healthcare and childcare. Gun safety. Combating climate change. The GOP opposes it all,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote in a Friday tweet. “If they refuse to support life after birth, how can they claim to believe in it before?”