Editorial

The Child Tax Credit Won’t Save Western Civilization

Sen. Marco Rubio threatened on Thursday to vote against the final tax reform bill hashed out by the House and Senate in conference.

The Florida Republican insisted he would vote against any legislation that doesn’t contain the child tax credit that he and Utah Sen. Mike Lee drafted. On Friday, Republicans caved into Rubio’s demands and included his cause in their tax reform package.

It’s pretty clear why Rubio made a fuss about this one issue.

Voices from the Right and the Left have criticized Republicans for failing to include the Rubio-Lee child tax credit expansion in a tax reform package. The most prominent voice in skewering Republicans for this dereliction is New York Times conservative columnist Ross Douthat.

In a widely-shared Twitter rant two weeks ago, Douthat attacked populist conservatives who backed Trump to stem western civilization’s decline, yet seem to evince no concern for the child tax credit.

“THEY DON’T CARE ABOUT THIS. It isn’t a video of a Muslim doing something bad or a Hollywood sex scandal or a stupid left-wing academic saying something stupid. It’s just a pro-natalist policy in the midst of a baby bust and who would care about THAT?,” read one of the NYT columnist’s many tweets on the subject.

According to Douthat, the lack of attention paid to the issue by Breitbart and Fox News proves that these populist-nationalists are frauds who don’t really care about reversing demographic suicide.

The columnist admitted that the child tax credit is not gonna save the West — it’s just one small thing to encourage a pro-natalist agenda.

Furthermore, Douthat argued it was not a handout and the credit was molded to be the sole benefit of hard-working Americans.

“The proposed tax credit is linked to having a job. It’s specifically designed to satisfy conservative concerns about subsidizing dependency, welfare mothers, illegal immigrants, etc. Lots and lots of its beneficiaries live in Trump country,” he claimed in his Twitter rant.

However, that one claim isn’t really true. According to Temple University Law Professor Jan Ting, the child tax credit would likely do more to benefit illegal immigrants that middle-class Americans.

“When House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady introduced the bill, Section 1103, Refundable Credit Program Integrity’, provided that the refundable credits were not available unless the ‘taxpayer includes the taxpayer’s Social Security number on the return of tax for such taxable year,'” Ting wrote for the Center of Immigration Studies. “This would ensure that illegal aliens could not receive the credit.”

But that language was changed to allow illegal aliens to reap the rewards.

“However, when the bill was marked up in committee, this language was replaced with ‘No credit shall be allowed under this section to a taxpayer with respect to any qualifying child unless the taxpayer includes the name and Social Security number of such qualifying child on the return of tax for the taxable year,'” Ting explained. “Because of birthright citizenship, any children born to illegal aliens become automatic U.S. citizens. Thus, illegal aliens can still receive billions of dollars in tax credits for their U.S.-born children.”

An estimated 6.1 million illegal immigrants file tax returns every year, with the vast majority not doing so to pay federal income tax, but to claim refundable tax credits — such as Rubio’s prized measure.

So the child tax credit designed to help save western civilization may end up redistributing the tax dollars from middle-class families to illegal immigrants who don’t pay taxes. While the exact text of the final bill is not clear, a source familiar with the conference committee’s activities says Republicans will likely leave the loophole for illegal aliens.

Maybe those numbskull nationalists were on to something in not obsessing over the tax credit…

Douthat’s main point is that the bill would encourage demographic groups that are not having children into making more babies. That isn’t really true.

The credit greatly benefit low-income families, which already have high-fertility rates when compared to higher income brackets. In fact, as a refundable tax credit, the measure acts as welfare for lower-income families. Sen. Rubio specifically stated he would not support tax reform if the bill doesn’t include the increase in refundable credits.

Refundability means that if the credit exceeds what the beneficiaries pay in taxes, they get a full refund.

At the same time, the child tax credit offers few benefits to higher-income groups.

While the argument goes that those families don’t need the credits to afford children, those brackets are having significantly fewer children than the low-income Americans the tax credit is designed for.

It’s one thing to say the plan helps those who are having kids, but it is quite another to say it reverses current demographic trends when it clearly doesn’t.

Conservative commentator Dan McCarthy offered an astute rebuttal to Douthat’s fury over populist-nationalist disinterest in the tax credit. The reason why these populist conservatives aren’t that concerned over marginal tax benefits is due to their belief economic nationalism would do far more to reverse demographic trends.

“I’m sympathetic to that idea because in my own life & those of my working-class kin, jobs are a helluva lot more important than marginal tax rates,” McCarthy tweeted. “So if you want an economic answer to family decline, focus on jobs, not the tax code—the latter is of minimal efficacy & may distract from the bigger questions.”

McCarthy also noted the important role that culture plays in the nationalist right’s thoughts on restoring the family, a factor left out of Douthat’s rant.

“For the hard right, family & economics go together in a ‘traditional’ pattern. Using taxes to try to fake the traditional social structure is useless and compromised,” he added.

And there is something to be said for culture in demographic trends. According to a new study that shows millennials are having a dramatic baby bust, 58 percent of female undergraduates don’t plan on having children.

A tax credit won’t change that opinion, and these are the people, being college-educated and upwardly mobile, who will be most likely to have the financial resources to have a family.

Changing the culture, not tax credits, is likely the cure to reversing the baby bust. But how we do that is a question with no good answers at the moment.

However, it is clear that Douthat’s maligning of Trumpists over the child tax credit is wildly misguided. It won’t even do a little to save the West.

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