Congressional stalemate: $858 billion for military, yet $12 billion child poverty aid stalled

A critical look at the Congressional impasse over funding $12 billion for Child Tax Credit expansion amid the approval of a colossal $858 billion military budget.

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Lawmakers recently passed an $858 billion military budget for the next fiscal year, a striking display of Congressional priorities. In stark contrast, proposals to revive the Child Tax Credit (CTC) expansion, a program instrumental in reducing child poverty last year, are being stalled by the GOP. The cost of reviving the CTC is a mere fraction of the approved Pentagon outlay, yet it remains a point of contention in Congress.

The deadlock over the Child Tax Credit boost reflects a deep partisan divide. According to a spokesperson for Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Republicans have been unyielding in their stance against the CTC expansion, which they unanimously opposed as part of the American Rescue Plan. Ashley Schapitl, Wyden’s spokesperson, underscored the GOP’s refusal to negotiate, stating, “Republicans have refused to engage at all on the Child Tax Credit.”

On the other side, leading Republicans have been vocal about their opposition. Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, and Representative Kevin Brady (R-Texas) have publicly declared their disapproval of the CTC boost, with Brady stating that the country lacks the resources for such “partisan, expensive provisions.”

The 2021 expansion of the Child Tax Credit led to a historic reduction in U.S. child poverty rates. By providing payments of up to $3,600 per child in monthly increments, the program significantly lowered child hunger and poverty. However, its expiration at the end of last year, primarily due to opposition from Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and the GOP, pushed millions of children back into poverty. The Congressional Progressive Caucus highlighted the urgency of reinstating the program, citing its effectiveness in reducing child poverty by over 40% and cutting child hunger by a third.

Democrats have shown a willingness to negotiate, even considering a range of corporate tax cuts desired by the GOP to facilitate the CTC expansion’s return. However, these attempts at compromise have yet to sway Republicans. Congressional Democrats and the Biden White House are also open to a more limited version of the 2021 CTC boost, potentially including stricter work requirements, but these concessions have not moved the needle in negotiations.

The stark contrast in Congressional spending priorities is evident when comparing the $858 billion military budget with the proposed $12 billion for the CTC. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) estimates that making low-income families eligible for the full CTC benefit would cost around $12 billion a year, a sum dwarfed by the increase in U.S. military spending, which rose by $90 billion over Fiscal Year 2022 levels.

The Pentagon’s budget has long been a subject of controversy, especially given its recent failures in financial audits. Much of the newly authorized funds are expected to benefit military contractors, continuing a trend of significant defense spending at the expense of other national priorities. Public Citizen President Robert Weissman criticized the military policy legislation as a “moral and political disgrace,” highlighting the diversion of funds from addressing critical issues like child poverty and the climate crisis.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) received overwhelming bipartisan support, passing the Senate with an 83 to 11 vote. Only a handful of senators, including Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), opposed the bill, citing concerns about prioritizing military spending over critical domestic issues. The House had previously approved the NDAA by a wide margin, with a 350 to 80 vote.

Republican lawmakers remain steadfast in their opposition to the CTC expansion. GOP representatives have expressed concerns about the cost and nature of the program, emphasizing fiscal constraints and opposing what they view as partisan spending. This stance has become a significant roadblock in the efforts to address child poverty through the tax credit system.

The lapse of the expanded Child Tax Credit program has had tangible repercussions, notably the resurgence of child poverty and hunger. The CBPP warns that without action, child poverty is likely to return to pre-pandemic levels, negating the historic gains achieved by the American Rescue Plan. As the deadline for a funding package to avert a government shutdown looms, the urgency for a resolution on the CTC becomes more acute.

The juxtaposition of Congress’s readiness to pass a colossal military budget against its hesitation to fund a program combatting child poverty illustrates a significant disparity in legislative priorities. The Child Tax Credit, once a cornerstone in reducing child poverty, remains in limbo, overshadowed by the vast sums allocated to defense spending. As the deadline approaches, the fate of millions of children hangs in the balance, dependent on a Congressional decision that could either sustain or reverse the strides made in combating child poverty.

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