Anne Hendershott is a Professor of Sociology and Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. She is the author of The Politics of Envy (Crisis Publications, 2020).
Claiming that “in the post-Roe World” a growing number of conservative lawmakers are “embracing a new kind of welfare,” the New York Times recently reported on the attempts by a few conservative members of Congress to promote new tax benefits for parents. Describing an influential group of conservative intellectuals “with a direct line to elected politicians” like Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, as well as Senators Marco Rubio of Florida, Josh Hawley of Missouri, and J.D. Vance of Ohio, the Times is suggesting that the new pro-family movement is an attempt to finally “abandon Reaganomics once and for all.”
This is really not true. The truth is that the Republican movement to help support families and address the falling birth rates by encouraging family formation and support began long before the Dobbs decision when U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) proposed legislation to create the Parent Tax Credit. Senator Hawley, a lawmaker who has been critical of the anti-Catholic animus in the Senate, was the first to propose a historic tax cut to help parents afford to start a family and raise their children. Through a fully refundable tax credit provided directly through automatic, monthly advances, Senator Hawley’s Parent Tax Credit legislation would have created a fully refundable tax credit of $6,000 for single parents and $12,000 for married parents with children.
This is not a rejection of the small government legacy of President Reagan—even though the New York Times has been trying to destroy that legacy for more than three decades now. What Hawley is doing—like Reagan—is attempting to return power back to the people. “In fact, the foundational phrase ‘we the people’ was one that Reagan often championed in speeches, contending that government was designed to be a function of the American people—and that it was time for American citizens to have control over their future, instead of the federal government.”
Hawley is now one of a growing number of Republican Senators who recognize that the current law is not helping families with children—especially families who want to care for their own children. Existing federal childcare programs and policies, including the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, require both parents to enter the labor market in order to receive the benefits. These existing programs require young children to be placed in formal commercial childcare, and Hawley—like many conservatives—knows that current law does nothing to help the millions of families who would prefer to care for their own young children in their own homes. Hawley is now one of a growing number of Republican Senators who recognize that the current law is not helping families with children—especially families who want to care for their own children.
Not surprisingly, Progressives have criticized Senator Hawley’s plan because it favors married couples—providing a greater financial incentive to parents who are married to each other. Senator Romney’s initial plan offered cash to all parents—even those single parents with no work history. But after pushback from Republicans concerned about a plan that would reward non-working families, Senator Romney revised his proposal to require $10,000 in family income from at least one parent to receive the full benefits.
Despite these innovative proposals, President Biden’s State of the Union Address last week brought out the tired pleas for funds to provide families with paid childcare instead of tax benefits for all parents of young children. Building a bloated bureaucracy promoted by the childcare industry is a non-starter for conservative Republicans who want parents to decide for themselves whether or not they want to care for their own children.
Hungary is one country that has emerged from the demographic death spiral we are experiencing throughout most of Europe. University of Dallas Political Science Professor Gladden Pappin published an important paper in The Public Discourse last year which pointed out that when Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party came to power in 2010, Hungary’s birth rate had fallen every year since the mid-1970s and the country was losing overall population. Fidesz made its stated goal to increase family expenditure each year.
Hungary now boasts an annual national outlay of 5 percent of GDP on families. To encourage marriage and family formation, Hungary provides generous cash incentives of $30,000 for married couples who have more than two children, income tax exemptions for married women who have three children or more, generous home mortgage loans which do not have to be repaid if the couple stays married and has a minimum of three children, and even loan subsidies to purchase minivans to accommodate growing families.
This change in priorities in Hungary has paid off. Since 2010, when the Orbán government began its family policy, the total fertility rate in Hungary has increased by 28 percent. Abortion declined thirty-five percent from around forty-five per hundred live births to fewer than 30 per hundred live births. Marriage rates increased by a staggering 88 percent, while divorces have fallen 25 percent.
Pappin points out that Hungary stands out against the trend of its neighbors. Between 2010 and 2017, marriage rates in the European Union remained static at around 4.4 per 1,000 per year. Yet in Hungary, they rose from 3.6 to 5.2, an enormous rise of 45 percent. Hungary’s closest regional post-communist neighbors did not share in Hungary’s success because they did not share the same family policies. Romania, Croatia, Serbia, Slovakia, and Slovenia all saw an average increase in marriage rates between 2010 and 2017 of only 11.5 percent, versus 45 percent in Hungary. As Pappin writes, “Hungary is an extreme outlier when it comes to increasing marriage rates.”
Pappin believes—as several marriage and family scholars do—that key elements of the Hungarian program can be implemented here. In an article published in Compact magazine last spring, Pappin argued that the end of Roe offers the Republican Party a “golden opportunity” to articulate an agenda that will be genuinely supportive of families and family formation.
Pappin pointed to the success that Hungary has experienced in promoting marriage and home ownership. Between 2012 and 2019, Hungary introduced, for married parents, subsidies for building homes, home-purchase cash subsidies, and a subsidized home purchase loan. Between 2010-2020, births to married parents increased by nearly 20 percent and today stands at 70 percent. Between 2010 and 2020, the annual number of marriages also increased by a staggering 87 percent. The policy encouraging home ownership worked to encourage marriage. Pappin suggested that a Republican administration could create a National Family Investment Bank to offer interest-free loans to qualified married couples to purchase homes.
Far from rejecting President Reagan’s legacy, Senator Hawley’s proposed legislation embraces President Reagan’s desire to give families the power to control their own destinies. Rather than creating yet another bloated bureaucracy devoted to doling out childcare subsidies that benefit the powerful childcare industry, Senator Hawley wants to give support to all parents—especially those who want to care for their young children.