Clinton's Child Care Proposal Draws GOP Supporters And Critics
By Sue Kirchhoff, CQ Staff Writer
President Clinton's Jan. 7 announcement of a $21.7 billion child
care package kicked off what is expected to be a spirited debate in
Congress about how far to expand federal aid to working families -- not
whether to do so.
Republicans and Democrats differ in their approaches, but both parties
are developing child care initiatives that would likely appeal to female
and suburban voters in the 1998 congressional elections.
Clinton's initiative, to be included in his fiscal 1999 budget
proposal, would increase funding to the states by $7.5 billion over
five years, boost the child and dependent care tax credit for families
making less than $60,000 annually, create a tax credit for businesses
that provide day care facilities and allocate 500,000 new after-school care
Unveiling the proposal at a White House ceremony, the president called
it "the single largest national commitment to child care in the history of
the United States."
In the Senate, a cross-aisle coalition led by Christopher J. Dodd,
D-Conn., has been working on child care legislation that would also mix tax
breaks and direct subsidies. The group, which includes Judiciary Committee
Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, hopes to complete work by Clinton's State
of the Union address later this month.
In the House, Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., in December asked Reps.
Jennifer Dunn, R-Wash., vice chairman of the House Republican Conference,
and Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio, conference secretary, to craft a child care
"I am pleased that the president seems to be fighting the urge to have
the federal government control child care and has embraced the Republican
ideal of tax relief," Pryce said.
Lawmakers are increasingly emphasizing children's issues. Last year,
Congress approved a $20 billion children's health initiative and
increased funding for education as part of the balanced-budget law (PL
Child care is an issue that crosses income and geographic lines because
quality child care can be expensive and hard to find. For families at all
income levels, it is a top household expense. In 1995, more than 12.9
million children under age six were in a day care setting, according to the
National Center for Education Statistics. About 45 percent of infants under
age one were in child care on a regular basis.
While there appears to be a consensus for some sort of child care
legislation, there are strong concerns on Capitol Hill about the Clinton
plan. Some Republicans criticized its scope, calling it a return to big
government spending. They also complained that the proposal, a priority of
first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, did little to support stay-at-home
The strongest reservations, from both parties, centered on the fact
that the White House is counting on higher tobacco revenues to finance
about one-third of the proposal.
It is assumed those revenues would come from implementation of a legal
settlement between states and tobacco companies, but passage of the tobacco
deal is uncertain.
"Those of us who recall the 'peace dividend' of a few years ago should
be cautious now about spending tomorrow's 'tobacco dividend,' " said Senate
Labor and Human Resources Committee Chairman James M. Jeffords, R-Vt. He is
also part of Dodd's working group.
Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala promised the
administration would find spending changes to pay for the child care
initiative if tobacco money did not materialize.
"This is not pie in the sky. We are very far along, we believe, in
consensus on getting the tobacco legislation," Shalala said.
The administration took pains to stress its proposal was not a new
federal entitlement. While calling on states to improve regulation of child
care facilities, the White House is not recommending mandatory federal
The Clinton proposal would:
Increase the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant by
$7.5 billion over five years. States will receive $3 billion in
fiscal 1998 under the existing program. Congress in the 1996 welfare
overhaul (PL 104-193) voted to expand the program. The White House said the
new money would allow states to provide subsidies for more than 2 million
children by 2003.
Increase the child and dependent tax credit for taxpayers whose
adjusted gross income is less than $60,000 a year. The White House said
the plan would provide an additional average credit of $358 a year for
families and would eliminate tax liability for almost all families with
incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty line, or $35,000 for a
family of four.
Create a tax break of up to $150,000 a year for businesses that
provide child care. During debate on the fiscal 1998 tax bill last year,
the Senate voted for a similar plan by Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis. It did not
Provide $800 million to expand before- or after-school care
While not requiring federal regulation of child care, the proposal would
aid state efforts to license and oversee day care centers, improve
background checks of care providers and provide $250 million over five
years for scholarships to better train child care workers.
The plan also provides an additional $3.8 billion over five years
in funding for the Head Start educational program for pre-schoolers.
Congress funded that program at $4.35 billion in 1998.
© 1998 Congressional Quarterly Inc. All rights reserved.