The GOP has failed millennial moms like me. But he needs us now more than ever.
We have given far too little serious thought to policies and ideas related to supporting motherhood and family policy on the right. Some of this shortage stems from a conservative desire to limit government overreach, but it has created gaping holes in the safety net, especially for mothers and children. Part of this, however, is also likely a result of the lack of women in general and mothers in particular in positions of power in the party, which limits their ability to have a say in policy-making.
I’ve seen how it works first hand.
In 2012, I was hired at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative think tank, as Program Director of Economic Policy. There I published many articles and articles on women’s economic opportunities, childcare, single parenthood and paid leave with the only resident researcher on the economics team at the time and my friend , Aparna Mathur. Sometimes our work has met with resistance. The AEI prides itself on its ability to encourage competition of ideas, so that was to be expected, although disagreements sometimes seemed more fundamental.
Our work did not fit neatly into the Conservative ethos of the time, although I always hoped that government support for childcare and maternity leave could fit within a pro-family Conservative framework and pro-growth. I felt like a renegade or RINO for writing about it, though motherhood emerges again and again as an inflection point in the data on economic opportunity and upward mobility. Being the only women on the team contributed to the feeling of being alone in raising these questions.
Eventually, Aparna and I finally left AEI for other opportunities. In 2014, I moved to Texas to lead politics for Governor Rick Perry’s second presidential election in 2016, and nine months later had my first baby. After childbirth, the survey data indicates that one in four women return to work within two weeks contained a whole new level of meaning. Nothing is then healed, attached or stable, or even near.
The lack of women is a problem throughout the GOP political establishment. In both bedrooms, there are 106 Democratic women and 38 Republican women in Congress. A look at the list of top right-wing and left-wing political institutions shows that in general, left-leaning institutions also tend to have more female domestic policy makers. Congress and think tanks complement and inform each other, existing in parallel universes of Washington, and so they also reinforce each other’s cultural issues, including their lack of female representation and leadership.
Still, the number of Republican women in Congress is at an all-time high, having lagged behind the share of Democratic women in power since the 1950s. And slowly, the Republican Party is talk about family-friendly policies. This sea change came with then-candidate Donald Trump in the 2016 election cycle. Largely prompted by the interest of his daughter Ivanka, Trump included a six-week paid maternity leave policy and childcare proposal in his campaign. With his engagement on this issue, Trump has given the party and the many institutions associated with it the political cover to move on child care and paid vacation issues without being labeled RINO.
Slowly and surely, more Republican members began proposing their own paid leave policies, including Florida Senator Marco Rubio (who offered tax breaks for companies offering paid family leave during his presidential campaign in 2016), Utah Senators Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy, Iowa Senator Joni Ernst and others. These included innovative proposals draw funds advance payment from Social Security to finance periods of paid parental leave, advance and increase the amount of child tax payments to cover periods of parental leave, or to combine other means-tested programs into a more easily accessible cash benefit for families. And the Republican Congress under Trump passed an expanded child tax credit, passed a spending plan with more money for the Block Grant for Child Care and Dependents (CCDBG), which helps support child care for low-income families, and provided paid parental leave for the federal workforce. In 2017, AEI and Brookings launched a bipartisan task force on paid leave, and I was delighted to speak at the launch event about the importance of paid parental leave from a conservative perspective. .
The Covid-19 pandemic at the end of the Trump administration gave an accelerator to the debate. Congress passed emergency and temporary provisions to support families, including a bipartisan federal paid vacation program for the first time, an expanded child tax credit and increased funding for child care. But those programs have since expired.
With President Joe Biden at the helm, few Republicans seem eager to get back to the table. His landmark program, Build Back Better, which aimed to dramatically increase our investment in early childhood, was so huge and cumbersome and full of hidden costs that Republicans were able to denounce the whole package instead of addressing its components. . Even many Democrats had concerns about this to drive up prices and not reach the most vulnerable families. There was little in the legislation that sought to cross the aisle or compromise, despite recent bipartisan dynamics on infrastructure and gun rights. The bill failed to gain support from moderates in the Senate and has gone nowhere since.
But Republicans need to get back to the table on these issues, and fast.