Some House Republicans defending vulnerable seats in the 2024 elections are working on an expansion of the child tax credit and view it as a priority in discussions about broader tax legislation this fall.
The GOP interest in playing a more active role to boost the benefit for families with children this year is bubbling up from at-risk freshmen and centrist groups in the party, who view the child credit as an important policy tool that has across-the-aisle support.
“I think that’s a good bipartisan area where we can work together,” Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., said in an interview. “The objective should be to try to find savings for our families across the country and especially as we continue to deal with inflation.”
While Republicans temporarily doubled the child tax credit in a 2017 law and it has had bipartisan support since its late-1990s inception, it’s become a focus for Democrats during the Biden administration. Republicans oppose the full scale of a 2021 expansion that Democrats championed, which made the credit worth up to $3,600 for the youngest kids and $3,000 per child aged 6 and over, paid it in monthly installments and made it fully available for people with little to no taxable income.
An impasse on if or how to bolster the benefit has now held up tax negotiations for a year. While Democrats are demanding a child credit boost in any bipartisan tax package that also revives lapsed business tax breaks, some lawmakers in Republicans’ narrow House majority are also naming it a top concern.
A handful of these Republicans proposed a bill to increase the maximum benefit to $4,500 per child for the youngest kids and $3,500 for children aged 6 and up. That’s up from $2,000 for children under age 17 in current law. The measure would also allow more access to the benefit for the lowest-income families, though it maintains an earnings requirement.
The proposal from Rep. John James, R-Mich., would also create a tax credit for workers such as nurses, police and child care providers in low-income communities designated as “opportunity zones.”
James said in an interview that the legislation is meant to help people who are working hard in a time of high inflation to keep more of what they’ve earned.
Inflation had been easing but the consumer price index rose 3.2 percent year-over-year in July, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Thursday, the first increase in more than a year. Core inflation, which excludes food and energy, was up 4.7 percent, slightly lower than the previous month but still well above economists’ comfort zone.
James represents a Detroit-area district, where he said some residents have decent jobs but can still struggle to afford housing, food and education expenses. He said the child credit is a solidly bipartisan program that’s both popular and the right thing to do.
James won his first election to represent Michigan’s 10th district by only a 0.5 percentage point margin in 2022. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates his 2024 race Tilt Republican.
Other freshman Republicans backing James’ bill also represent districts likely to be hotly contested. Co-sponsors Lawler and Oregon Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer are defending seats rated Toss-up, and Arizona Rep. Juan Ciscomani’s contest is rated Tilt Republican. All three represent districts that President Joe Biden won in 2020.
James attributed the group’s interest in the child credit to being the type of lawmakers who prioritize constituents over politics.
Lawler and Ciscomani both said the child credit would be among their priorities for a tax package this year.
Lawler’s district sits in the New York City suburbs, where the cost of living and taxes are higher than in many parts of the country. He said the child credit is a benefit people care about in districts like his, and one that the GOP should consider as part of an effort to ensure the tax code is fair and helps working, middle-class families.
“To my colleagues in the majority — if we want to maintain the majority, we need to be talking about these issues,” Lawler said.
Chavez-DeRemer’s spokesperson didn’t respond to an interview request.
Asked about the child tax credit, other Republicans representing House districts that Biden won in 2020 generally showed interest.
Rep. Mike Garcia, who’s defending a Toss-up seat in California, said he’s examining the variables of a child credit proposal but he’s open to increasing the benefit. New York Rep. Nick LaLota, who hails from a Lean Republican district, said he needed to further analyze the issue but he generally supports the child credit.
Rep. Jen Kiggans, whose Virginia race is rated Tilt Republican, supports exploring different avenues to maximize the credit’s utility, according to her press secretary. The aide pointed to Kiggans’ support for making the GOP’s 2017 version of the credit permanent and that she’d lead on the issue as a mother of four children.
Show us the money
Arizona Rep. David Schweikert, whose race is also considered Tilt Republican, struck a different tone more in line with GOP leadership’s stance so far. A senior Ways and Means Committee member with a track record as a fiscal conservative, his Phoenix-area seat has become more competitive.
Schweikert said expanding the child credit is Democrats’ negotiating position and not an area for Republicans to lead on right now. He said the major issue is the high price tag of increasing benefits.
“It’s a demand from Democrats, so show us how you intend to pay for it,” he said.
Other offices from districts Biden carried in 2020 didn’t provide comment.
The Republicans backing James’ bill aren’t alone. The bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus is planning to work on a proposal to expand the child credit with leadership from Ways and Means member and caucus co-chair Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.
Ohio Rep. David Joyce, the leader of a centrist GOP faction called the Republican Governance Group, was among Republicans who called for compromise to expand the benefit in a letter last year.
Other Republicans including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Iowa Rep. Ashley Hinson have proposed similar boosts to the credit’s value and extending it to cover pregnancies, a change intended to offer financial help for fetuses still in the womb as part of an anti-abortion platform. Tying the issue closely to abortion rights, though, is more likely to alienate Democrats.
There’s also an effort underway to show Republicans that the child credit is an area ripe for bipartisanship that would go over well with voters on the right.
Paolo Mastrangelo, co-president of American Policy Ventures, has been working to lay the groundwork for bipartisan dealmaking on the benefit and has for several months been presenting lawmakers with a poll of 2020 Trump voters that shows their views of the benefit are more often positive than negative.
Public Opinion Strategies polled 2,640 individuals from Oct. 20-29 who voted for former President Donald Trump in Alaska, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina and Oklahoma. It found majority support for increasing the child tax credit’s maximum value, allowing it to be paid monthly and adding extra benefits for the youngest kids — and for work requirements, which Republicans have emphasized as a necessity.
Swing district Republicans are also pointing to the child credit as a fit on the right, and say their party should keep promoting fiscal restraint and cut federal spending while also investing in programs that help those most in need.
“This is for people who are struggling to make ends meet, abiding by rules and doing all the right things,” James said. “I can’t imagine a more conservative thing than allowing the people — capital P — to keep their money rather than the government taking it.”