Mitt Romney’s Family Plan Isn’t Great, but It May Be Better Than the Alternatives

“According to Sen. Mitt Romney (R–Utah), America’s current welfare policies have two major flaws: They penalize recipients who get married by reducing the benefits they’re eligible for, and they don’t do enough to help couples afford to have more kids.

“There’s a growing gap between the number of children people say they want to have and the number they actually decide to have,” he said during an event yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington, D.C. “Just to be clear here, I don’t think the goal of policy should be to try to create incentives to have people have more children than they want, but instead should find a way to bridge the gap between what people would like to add to their family and what they’re able to afford.”

Attempting to address these issues, Romney in June released the Family Security Act 2.0, a proposal to send parents monthly checks of between $250 and $700 per child, beginning midway through a pregnancy. A household would need to have earned at least $10,000 the previous year to be eligible for the full benefit, a provision meant to keep families from dropping out of the work force entirely. The program would be “paid for” by reducing or eliminating various existing income tax breaks.

It’s hard to fault efforts to resolve distortions introduced by previous federal policy, including the whoopsie-daisy of incentivizing low-income couples to remain unmarried. The idea that it’s the government’s job to help people have more kids rests on a more debatable assumption—namely, that parents should not have to shoulder the full cost of raising future members of society.

Regardless of whether you buy that “positive externalities” argument, the federal government does spend billions each year on family programs. Given that these efforts are not likely to go away (however much libertarian purists might wish otherwise), it’s worth considering whether Romney’s proposal represents at least an incremental improvement over the status quo.”

How state governments are reimagining American public housing

“Governments have successfully addressed past housing shortages through publicly developed housing in places like Vienna, Finland, and Singapore, but citing these examples often leads to glazed eyes and weary skepticism that such models could ever work in the US, with our more meager welfare systems and our strong cultural attitudes toward private homeownership. America’s 958,000 units of federal public housing have also long suffered from reputation problems both real and exaggerated, with many seen as ugly, dirty, or unsafe. Few understand that many of the woes of American-style public housing have had to do with rules Congress passed nearly 100 years ago that predictably crippled its success and popularity, rules like restricting the housing to only the very poor.”

The CHIPS Act Is Corporate Welfare Disguised as Industrial Policy

“Industrial policy is making a comeback. For those of you under the age of 50, this is just another term for corporate welfare—a lovely name for the unlovely practice of a government granting subsidies, protective tariffs, and other privileges to politically influential industries or companies. It’s often done in the name of some lofty goal such as strengthening national security or ensuring that America is a leader in the “industries of the future.” But the outcome is always the same: wasteful, unfair, unsuccessful, and unjustified. Oh, and it invariably grows the budget deficit.

The latest form of industrial policy is Congress’s CHIPS Act of 2022, a bill meant to subsidize the semiconductor industry by channeling taxpayer money to build up domestic production capacity and combat feared Chinese computer-chip supremacy.

This chapter began with the disruption caused by lockdowns to global supply chains. Unsurprisingly, that led to a series of semiconductor shortages aggravated by a surge in demand for automobiles. Automakers wrongly assumed that the original drop in demand would persist, canceled orders for semiconductors, and then could not keep up with the buying public.

Now, Congress is responding to this temporary chip shortage with $52 billion in subsidies and $24 billion in tax credits mostly directed at semiconductor industry beggars.

Never mind that chip firms have already expanded production without subsidies. In fact, two years into negotiating this bill, it’s obvious that it has little to do with any alleged structural deficiencies in the semiconductor market. For instance, the initial chip subsidy proposal had a $16 billion price tag. Since then, the industry has announced its own investments totaling over $800 billion, with $80 billion committed for near-term investment in U.S.-based fabrication facilities. Yet somehow, the bill more than tripled in price to target a problem that’s already being solved.

What about the argument that China is subsidizing its chip producers and thus threatening our technological leadership? Yes, China subsidizes its chip industry, but this doesn’t guarantee their subsidies will work. If U.S. politicians could for a moment stop treating every Chinese action as a threat, they would see that the Chinese semiconductor industry is both quantitatively and qualitatively weak. In fact, many of the companies subsidized would go under without the government’s help. That’s hardly the sign of a vibrant industry. These subsidies are more like life support than super-vitamins.”

“” Any resulting new operations would still face deep-rooted issues hindering American manufacturing. Large-scale environmental assessments will be required, but over the years, the costs and delays have become excessive. Recent trends promoting or requiring unionized workers for federal contracts, combined with the current labor shortage, will hinder chipmakers’ ability to find talent and could exacerbate the cost of domestic production. ”

In other words, if you believe that moving most of our chip production onshore is important for national security reasons, you should labor for regulatory reforms rather than subsidies.”

Watchdog Report: At Least 20 Percent of Federal Pandemic Unemployment Dollars Wasted

“The federal government sent billions in unemployment aid to ineligible beneficiaries and outright fraudsters during the pandemic, according to a new watchdog report. At least $78 billion in jobless benefits, and potentially much more, were misspent during fiscal year 2021, according to a Tuesday report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
“Not only is the system falling short in meeting the needs of workers and the broader economy, but the potential for huge financial losses could undermine public confidence in the stewardship of government funds,” said GAO head Gene Dorado in a press release yesterday, who called the report’s findings “extremely troubling.”

The Congressional watchdog agency has rated the unemployment insurance system as “high risk” for waste, fraud, and abuse and called on lawmakers and the administration to undertake immediate reforms.

The federal government’s unemployment insurance system—jointly administered by the Department of Labor and a patchwork of state agencies—has long struggled with making improper payments. This problem only got worse during the pandemic, when Congress dumped billions more into an expanded number of unemployment assistance programs.

The GAO found that the improper payment rate jumped from 9 percent in the pre-pandemic fiscal year 2020 to 18.9 percent the next year. That means nearly one in five unemployment insurance dollars went to an ineligible or overpaid beneficiary.

There are multiple reasons for this sharp rise in improper payments.

The GAO reports that some states’ legacy 40- and 50-year-old information technology systems used to administer benefits weren’t up to the task of identifying potential fraud or overpayments. These same systems also struggled to handle totally new benefit programs covering self-employed workers like rideshare drivers, who typically aren’t covered by unemployment insurance.

Federal rules on who was eligible to receive benefits were also “untimely and unclear,” according to the GAO report. Some state officials told the agency they’d already set up programs and started sending money out the door by the time Labor Department guidance came down.

The massive increase in available unemployment funds also increased the rate of improper payments. Federal funding for unemployment benefits jumped from $86.9 billion in fiscal year 2020 to $410 billion in fiscal year 2021.

States often struggled to hire enough people to administer these new benefits. The staff they did hire were often undertrained.

The huge increase in unemployment benefits also became a target for fraudsters. The GAO reports that 146 people have pleaded guilty to federal charges of defrauding unemployment systems. In California, for instance, the state paid an estimated $400 million on fraudulent claims made in the name of state prison inmates.”

The Export-Import Bank’s New ‘Made in America’ Corporate Welfare Scheme

“Dating back to its founding in 1934, the Export-Import Bank of the United States has had a pretty specific mission: subsidize the export of American-made products by extending cheap credit to foreign companies looking to buy our stuff.

Whether the bank serves any legitimate purpose is another matter entirely. These days, the Export-Import Bank mostly acts as a slush fund for politically connected American corporations like Boeing and General Electric that would have no trouble doing business abroad but are more than happy to benefit from its largesse, doled out in the form of low-interest loans to potential buyers. Sometimes it also blows American taxpayer money on propping up government-run monopolies in foreign countries.

Still, the mission has always been clear. It’s right there in Executive Order 6581, which President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed in 1934 to authorize “a banking corporation…with power to aid in financing and to facilitate exports and imports and the exchange of commodities between the United States and other Nations.” The bank’s current mission statement, too, clearly spells out a goal of “supporting American jobs by facilitating the export of U.S. goods and services.”

Now, quietly, the Ex-Im Bank is taking on a new—and entirely domestic—project.

At a meeting last week, the Ex-Im Bank’s board of directors voted unanimously to approve a so-called “Make More in America” initiative. The press release announcing the new program is a gobbledygook of crony capitalist doublespeak virtually devoid of specifics about how the program will operate or what it will cost. The new program “will create new financing opportunities that spur manufacturing in the United States, support American jobs and boost America’s ability to compete with countries like China,” Reta Jo Reyes, the bank’s president and board chair, says in the statement.

This latest development at the Ex-Im Bank is another aspect of the sprawling federal effort that began under President Donald Trump and continues under President Joe Biden to subsidize American manufacturing. The creation of a “domestic financing program” at the Ex-Im Bank was part of a series of supply chain recommendations made by the White House in June. A few days before Christmas, the Ex-Im Bank filed a vague notice in the Federal Register outlining plans to implement the program.

But there has been little clarity about what the program will aim to do, which businesses might stand to benefit from it, or how its results will be judged. In the announcement last week, the Ex-Im Bank only said that the new program will “immediately make available the agency’s existing medium- and long-term loans and loan guarantees for export-oriented domestic manufacturing projects.””

“the government will throw taxpayer dollars at investments that private capital markets have deemed too risky.

But how will the government decide which projects to fund? Toomey also asked the bank to explain what steps will be taken to “ensure that domestic transactions will not be influenced by political pressures.”

The Ex-Im Bank’s response to that query is even more worrying. There don’t appear to be any safeguards in place. “Financing is available to all qualifying applicants based on criteria established by law and agency practice,” Lewis wrote in reply.

Translation: Any company with the resources to hire the attorneys, accountants, and lawyers necessary to decipher the bank’s policies and sufficiently schmooze decision-makers can get paid.

“There is no reason that taxpayers should have to back domestic financing when we live in a highly developed market economy in which promising businesses have access to capital on competitive terms,” says Toomey.”

Why Republicans Need a Childcare Proposal of Their Own

“Child care costs exceed those of a mortgage or college in many states. Access to affordable child care is one of the biggest barriers to women’s work, and there’s increasing evidence that the cost of raising children is a barrier to having more kids as well, according to a New York Times survey. Low quality early childhood care situations have lifetime ramifications for children, including worsened health and economic trajectories and an increased likelihood of needing future government assistance.”

“The evidence of improved outcomes for children from universal preschool and universal child care is mixed at best. The preponderance of evidence shows the largest gains for at-risk kids and unclear results for everyone else, and state-based programs haven’t been around long enough to suss out long-term effects.
Moreover, providing generous subsidies to nearly all American families, irrespective of need, will make child care more expensive by increasing demand, which will necessitate larger subsidies over time. This is a recipe for spiraling costs; look no further than our experiments in health care or college to see how quickly costs inflate when the government makes something “affordable.” Exacerbating these dynamics, the administration’s proposal will also constrain child care supply by mandating higher wages and skill levels from providers who already have thin margins as well as potentially limiting religious providers. Faith leaders across religions (Catholic, Muslim, Christian and Jewish) have expressed concern that their ability to continue to provide care will be negatively impacted by BBB. Those providers make up a huge portion of child care providers: A Bipartisan Policy Center poll from last year found that 31 percent of working-parent households used center-based care, and over half, or 53 percent, of these families used one that was affiliated with a faith organization.

To be sure, most parents will be shielded from the effects of rising costs because of the generous subsidies they are receiving, making the policy seem like a win-win on the surface, though they might be affected by the reduced choice providers. But nothing is free. Taxes on the rich and corporations can only go so far, and at some point that money will also need to go toward the historic debt we’ve accumulated. Estimates from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and Moody’s suggest that the BBB child care provisions alone will cost nearly $1 trillion over 10 years once fully implemented, far exceeding the money to be provided by the tax increases that Democrats have proposed to fund the legislation. The people likely to pay for BBB and the runaway spending in Washington are the very children whom such policies are supposed to benefit.

Policymakers can do better. Republicans should up the ante on what Democrats have proposed with an alternative child care proposal — one that is more targeted, sustainable and also more transformative — by providing greater support and choice to parents.”

Allowing the expanded child tax credit to expire would be a major mistake

“For the past six months, families with kids have received monthly payments from the federal government as part of the expanded child tax credit — a policy that has slashed child poverty in the US.
If Congress doesn’t act, however, this measure is set to expire for future payments near the end of the month. The last monthly payment was scheduled to go out on December 15, after which these installments will end.”

“The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank focusing on social programs, estimates 9.9 million children could fall back into poverty or deeper into poverty if the credit is not extended. It estimates, too, that poverty rates for Black, Latino, and American Indian or Alaska Native (AIAN) children, in particular, will be hardest hit. If BBB doesn’t pass, poverty rates would be 22 percent for Black children compared to 13 percent if it did, 21 percent for Latino children compared to 12 percent, and 18 percent for AIAN children compared to 10 percent.”