Senator Elizabeth Warren
(D-Mass.) made a political statement on Wednesday, telling Stardia that a major child care
initiative must be included in the large economic package Democrats
hope to pass this year.
Warren also backed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
's (D-Calif.) strategy, saying she will not sign off on a smaller, bipartisan bill limited to funding roads, bridges, and similar projects until she is certain that the larger package, which includes child care, is on track to become law
Making quality, affordable child care available to all Americans is one of several legislative priorities identified by Democratic Party
leaders and included in President Joe Biden
's two-part, comprehensive infrastructure
earlier this year.
However, given the political circumstances, it is unclear how much of the Democratic agenda will be implemented and when. Warren stated in an interview
that child care must remain a priority.
“Child care has to be in an infrastructure package,” Warren said, when asked if she would vote against one that did not include it. “It’s not possible to talk about infrastructure in the twenty-first century without including child care,” she added.
Because a major child care initiative is unlikely to garner Republican support, it would almost certainly have to pass on a party-line vote in the Senate
, which would necessitate going through the “budget
reconciliation” process to avoid a Republican filibuster
, and then holding on to the votes
of all 50 Democratic senators so Vice President Kamala Harris
could break the tie.
As Democratic leaders draft
this legislation, they will face pressure from their party's more conservative members to scale back on some priorities and postpone others, if only to keep the overall cost down.
Warren, a vocal and influential leader in the party's progressive wing, made it clear on Wednesday that she is determined to push in the opposite direction, seeking whatever spending is necessary to fulfill party promises, with universal child care at the top of the list.
She also argued that child care should not be considered alongside more traditional infrastructure projects such as tunnels and trains
“Child care is about early childhood education
,” Warren explained, “it’s about making sure mamas and papas can go to work
, and it’s about creating good jobs
, particularly women of color.”
Pelosi, according to Warren, has taken the "right approach."
Democratic leaders are now confronted with a critical strategic decision regarding the precise packaging and sequencing of legislation.
A group of moderate Republicans
, working with some moderate Democrats and with Biden's support, have endorsed a smaller package limited to traditional, physical
infrastructure. Democratic leaders, led by Pelosi, have said they are willing to support such legislation, but only if it is passed alongside their other economic initiatives on a party-line vote.
“Let me be clear: we will not take up a bill in the House until the Senate passes the bipartisan bill and the reconciliation bill,” Pelosi said last week.
Biden, for his part, has sent mixed signals, initially threatening to veto a physical infrastructure bill if it was not accompanied by legislation on child care and other items on his agenda, but then retracting his explicit veto threat.
“I believe Speaker Pelosi is correct,” Warren told Stardia, later adding that Pelosi has taken the “right approach.”
And, while Warren acknowledged that "there are different ways that the voting
might be ordered," she also stated that "we are not going to move roads and bridges forward while leaving child care, clean energy
, and broadband at the train station."
Child Care Policy Is Popular, But It Is Expensive
In theory, action on child care could be easily passed by Congress
with bipartisan support.
has highlighted how much working families rely on child care and how difficult it is to find it; available polling indicates that most Americans, including the majority of Republican voters
, support increased government spending to make child care more accessible.
Furthermore, the United States government
invests far less in early childhood care and services than its counterparts in peer countries around the world.
However, the debate over child care invariably leads to debates over the boundaries between public and private responsibility, not to mention gender
roles; and a meaningful investment in child care would invariably cost a lot of money
, much to the chagrin of conservatives
who would prefer to see government spending cut.
Biden's proposal for early childhood programs, which includes subsidized child care and pre-kindergarten, calls for $450 billion in spending over ten years, but Warren wants even more.
She signed an open letter last week with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden
(D-Ore.) and Democratic Women's Caucus leaders urging $700 billion in net new spending on early childhood programs.
That figure is much closer to what most analysts believe it would take to make quality child care affordable to all Americans, and it is also closer to what Warren proposed when she ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.
Warren, like other Democrats who support such a bold plan, has proposed funding the new spending through higher taxes
on the wealthy.
“$700 billion is our best estimate of what it takes to provide child care for every baby who needs it, every mama or daddy who wants to use it, and to ensure that every child care worker is compensated for the skills and time they invest in caregiving,” Warren said.
When asked if moderate Democrats in the Senate were on board, Warren responded simply, "yes."
“I'm not saying anything to you that I haven't said to all of my Democratic Senate colleagues at lunch,” she explained.
Sen. Joe Manchin
(D-W.Va.) has indicated that he would prefer to limit the cost of a reconciliation package to around $2 trillion, implying that Warren's proposal would consume more than a third of it, leaving less room for other Democratic priorities like expanding the child tax credit
and providing free community college
When asked how large she hoped the package would be, Warren rejected the idea of a specific limit, pointing out that she has proposed tax increases on the wealthy and corporations that could raise $6 trillion.
cap should be based on the infrastructure we need,” Warren said, adding that “if someone comes up with an infrastructure plan that is completely inadequate, leaving whole parts of what our nation needs behind, then simply saying ‘Oh, but we hit the cap’ is not a success.”
Even child care advocates disagree on some points.
The debate over child care legislation also includes some disagreements among the Democrats most committed to the cause, specifically about how to design a program.
The Child Care for Working Families Act, championed and lead sponsored in the Senate by Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who chairs the Committee on Health
, Education, Labor
, and Pensions, is currently the leading proposal in Congress. It would subsidize child care by modifying existing programs that provide money to states.
An array of advocacy groups that worked on the bill support it, as does Biden, who cited it as a model for legislation during the 2020 campaign. Warren, on the other hand, has expressed reservations, particularly about what amounts to a "work requirement," which would make assistance conditional on parents demonstrating that they are employed, looking for work, or in school, or have a reason why they are unable.
Warren has argued against this, citing the administrative burdens it would impose as well as the importance of recognizing child care as something that should be available regardless of parental circumstance.
“I believe it should be available to all of our children
in the same way that public education is available to all children in America,” Warren said, adding that “nobody asks parents if they have jobs before enrolling a 7-year-old in second grade.”
Despite these differences, Warren and legislative advocates such as Murray largely agree on the need for major action on child care and the importance of emphasizing both quality and affordability, particularly by raising child care worker pay and benefits in order to attract and retain a more qualified workforce.
But that, too, costs money, which is why even a modest child care proposal, let alone a comprehensive one, will necessitate a strong push from advocates in Congress and the White House