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Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) offered an ice-cold argument Tuesday against subsidizing child care for working parents: Taking care of all these children just isn’t society’s job.
“People decide to have families and become parents; that’s something they need to consider when they make that choice,” Johnson told TV station WKBT during a visit to Kwik Trip’s headquarters in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
“I’ve never really felt it was society’s responsibility to take care of other people’s children,” Johnson said.
Technically, other people’s children are part of society. Everyone knows the proverb that “it takes a village to raise a child.”
But Johnson’s point is that parents should take care of their own children, and he said society does have a responsibility to provide job opportunities for parents.
Unfortunately, becoming a parent can make it more difficult to hold a job, since child care is often unaffordable, unavailable or only available at times that don’t fit an employer’s schedule. Nationally, there isn’t enough child care for the preschool population. One result of these challenges is that children in the U.S. have higher poverty rates than other age groups and higher rates than children in other advanced countries.
Democrats had hoped to create a massive child care subsidy program as part of the Build Back Better Act, vowing that, if it passed, no working parents would have to pay more than 7% of their income on child care. The bill is currently stalled.
Other Republicans have offered much more sophisticated complaints about the proposal than Johnson’s. Several argued that the bill’s higher standards for providers would unfairly increase costs for parents whose incomes make them ineligible for subsidies.
Johnson’s comment may have been ham-handed, but his free market view isn’t really an outlier among his peers in Congress, and his statement illustrates a stark difference between the parties on family economics.
Democrats have made slashing child poverty a core of their agenda. Last year they transformed the child tax credit to a monthly cash program paying most American parents as much as $300 per child from July through December, resulting in a sharp decline in child poverty.
Republicans have ignored the poverty reduction and said the program simply exacerbates labor shortages by making parents less willing to work, calling it another part of Democrats’ “socialist” program that diminishes people’s freedom ― including the freedom to be involuntarily poor.
As Johnson put it in a tweet on Wednesday, “The Left wants the government to run the family. I believe the parents do.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.