LUKAS & LANGER: People Rejected Key Part Of Biden’s ‘Build Back Better’. Now He’s Sneaking It Through The Back Door

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Last week, the deadline passed to submit comments about proposed new rules governing a childcare grant program. 

Who cares, right? You didn’t read about it in the media, because it sounds about as interesting as drying paint. Yet that’s exactly what the administration and its allies want. They don’t want the people to pay attention to major changes being made to the infrastructure of American society. That’s because if people were paying attention, they would reject these rules and the administration’s vision for America.

We know it would be rejected, because it was rejected. President Biden’s ill-fated “Build Back Better” legislation envisioned a similar sweeping expansion of federal authority over the childcare system, including measures to “limit childcare costs for families to no more than 7% of income.” The proposed federal intrusion in child care was so unpopular that those measures were removed even before the rest of the bill collapsed. Senator Elizabeth Warren pitched a similar vision for our nation’s childcare system, including the 7% payment cap, during her presidential primary campaign in 2019. That proposal had no more appeal than her candidacy.

Consistent rejection by the people and their representatives, however, doesn’t deter this administration from imposing its agenda on the country. On July 17, in the midst of summer when most people are too busy to focus on the machinations of Washington bureaucracies, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families quietly proposed new rules for the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF), the largest federal grant program to the states for child care. The program was last reauthorized in 2014, and new rules for the CCDF were finalized in 2016. In 2023, approximately $8 billion was distributed through the CCDF to the states. Comments were due by August 28. Unsurprisingly, the centerpiece of the proposed new rules is a requirement that states create “co-payment policies that ensure families receiving assistance under CCDF pay no more than 7% of their family income for child care.” 

The potential negative, unintended consequences of the proposed regulations are many. Subsidized families have less at stake in the true cost of child care, so daycare providers may increase prices across the board, leaving many families with moderate incomes worse off. With more of the cost of child care shouldered by taxpayers, more families that currently rely on family-based care such as grandparents may seek out spots in formal daycare centers, exacerbating existing shortages. Most disturbingly, with the government providing childcare centers with a growing share of their income, daycare providers will become more interested in providing services that appeal to the values and priorities of those bureaucracies—not to parents.

Policymakers should also take note that most parents prefer options other than traditional, institutional daycare centers. A 2022 report by the Bipartisan Policy Center and Morning Consult found that nearly six in 10 parents preferred informal child care over formal child care centers, even if formal care was free and in a convenient location. Most parents and Americans simply think that having family or family-like care is best for children.

Of course, there are some upsides to the Biden administration’s proposal too. Childcare expenses are a real burden for many families and could prevent some parents from entering the workforce and climbing the economic ladder. Some families will certainly be better off after receiving these taxpayer-provided subsidies. Currently, some childcare facilities are struggling to stay afloat, especially after years of inflation, with rising labor costs and customers who just can’t afford to pay more. Policymakers should explore ways to ensure that struggling families have access to more and better options.

Yet this is exactly why this debate should take place in Congress, among the people’s elected representatives, rather than through an obscure regulatory process. Advocates for the “Build Back Better” approach insist it is broadly popular. If that is so, then they should be willing to have a robust debate of the pros and cons take place in public among those who can be held accountable by their constituents. That they are trying instead to slip this publicly rejected, heavy-handed approach to federal childcare policy through the bureaucracy’s back door shows that they know it isn’t supported by the public—and they just don’t care. 

Carrie Lukas is president of Independent Women’s Forum, and Andrew Langer is Director of the Center for Regulatory Freedom at the CPAC Foundation.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.