Senate Approves Sotomayor for Supreme Court

Emily Douglas

By a vote of 68 to 31, the Senate has confirmed Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

By a vote of 68 to 31, the Senate has confirmed Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

Marcia Greenberger, President of the National Women’s Law Center, said in a statement, "Today’s Senate vote marks a defining moment in the
history of our nation’s highest court. The confirmation of the first
Latina and woman of color, and only the third woman, to sit on the
Supreme Court means the bench will now better reflect the rich
diversity of our country."

The New York Times reports of the vote:

Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation was never in much doubt, given Democrats’ numerical
advantage in the Senate. But the final vote — 68 to 31 — represented a
partisan divide. No Democrat voted against her, while all but 9 of the
chamber’s 40 Republicans did so. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of
Massachusetts, is ailing and did not vote.

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Analysis Politics

Experts: Trump’s Proposal on Child Care Is Not a ‘Solution That Deals With the Problem’

Ally Boguhn

“A simple tax deduction is not going to deal with the larger affordability problem in child care for low- and moderate-income individuals," Hunter Blair, a tax and budget analyst at the Economic Policy Institute told Rewire.

In a recent speech, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested he now supports policies to made child care more affordable, a policy position more regularly associated with the Democratic Party. The costs of child care, which have almost doubled in the last 25 years, are a growing burden on low- and middle-income families, and quality options are often scarce.

“No one will gain more from these proposals than low- and middle-income Americans,” claimed Trump in a speech outlining his economic platform before the Detroit Economic Club on Monday. He continued, “My plan will also help reduce the cost of childcare by allowing parents to fully deduct the average cost of childcare spending from their taxes.” But economic experts question whether Trump’s proposed solution would truly help alleviate the financial burdens faced by low- and middleincome earners.

Details of most of Trump’s plan are still unclear, but seemingly rest on addressing child care costs by allowing families to make a tax deduction based on the “average cost” of care. He failed to clarify further how this might work, simply asserting that his proposal would “reduce cost in child care” and offer “much-needed relief to American families,” vowing to tell the public more with time. “I will unveil my plan on this in the coming weeks that I have been working on with my daughter Ivanka … and an incredible team of experts,” promised Trump.

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An adviser to the Trump campaign noted during an interview with the Associated Press Monday that the candidate had yet to nail down the details of his proposal, such as what the income caps would be, but said that the deductions would only amount to the average cost of child care in the state a taxpayer resided in:

Stephen Moore, a conservative economist advising Trump, said the candidate is still working out specifics and hasn’t yet settled on the details of the plan. But he said households reporting between $30,000 and $100,000, or perhaps $150,000 a year in income, would qualify for the deduction.

“I don’t think that Britney Spears needs a child care credit,” Moore said. “What we want to do is to help financially stressed middle-class families have some relief from child-care expenses.”

The deduction would also likely apply to expensive care like live-in nannies. But exemptions would be limited to the average cost of child care in a taxpayer’s state, so parents wouldn’t be able to claim the full cost of such a high-price child care option.

Experts immediately pointed out that while the details of Trump’s plan are sparse, his promise to make average child care costs fully tax deductible wouldn’t do much for the people who need access to affordable child care most.

Trump’s plan “would actually be pretty poorly targeted for middle-class and low-income families,” Hunter Blair, a tax and budget analyst at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), told Rewire on Monday.

That’s because his tax breaks would presumably not benefit those who don’t make enough money to owe the federal government income taxes—about 44 percent of households, according to Blair. “They won’t get any benefit from this.”

As the Associated Press further explained, for those who don’t owe taxes to the government, “No matter how much they reduce their income for tax purposes by deducting expenses, they still owe nothing.”

Many people still may not benefit from such a deduction because they file standard instead of itemized deductions—meaning they accept a fixed amount instead of listing out each qualifying deduction. “Most [lower-income households] don’t choose to file a tax return with itemized deductions,” Helen Blank, director of child care and early learning at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), told Rewire Tuesday. That means the deduction proposed by Trump “favors higher income families because it’s related to your tax bracket, so the higher your tax bracket the more you benefit from [it],” added Blank.

A 2014 analysis conducted by the Congressional Research Service confirms this. According to its study, just 32 percent of tax filers itemized their deductions instead of claiming the standard deduction in 2011. While 94 to 98 percent of those with incomes above $200,000 chose to itemize their deductions, just 6 percent of tax filers with an adjusted gross income below $20,000 per year did so.

“Trump’s plan is also not really a solution that deals with the problem,” said Blair. “A simple tax deduction is not going to deal with the larger affordability problem in child care for low- and moderate-income individuals.”

Those costs are increasingly an issue for many in the United States. A report released last year by Child Care Aware® of America, which advocates for “high quality, affordable child care,” found that child care for an infant can cost up to an average $17,062 annually, while care for a 4-year-old can cost up to an average of $12,781.

“The cost of child care is especially difficult for families living at or below the federal poverty level,” the organization explained in a press release announcing those findings. “For these families, full-time, center-based care for an infant ranges from 24 percent of family income in Mississippi, to 85 percent of family income in Massachusetts. For single parents the costs can be overwhelming—in every state annual costs of center-based infant care averaged over 40 percent of the state median income for single mothers.”

“Child care now costs more than college in most states in our nation, and it is an actual true national emergency,” Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, CEO and executive director of MomsRising, told Rewire in a Tuesday interview. “Donald Trump’s new proposed child care tax deduction plan falls far short of a solution because it’s great for the wealthy but it doesn’t fix the child care crisis for the majority of parents in America.”

Rowe-Finkbeiner, whose organization advocates for family economic security, said that in addition to the tax deduction being inaccessible to those who do not itemize their taxes and those with low incomes who may not pay federal income taxes, Trump’s proposal could also force those least able to afford it “to pay up-front child care costs beyond their family budget.”

“We have a crisis … and Donald Trump’s proposal doesn’t improve access, doesn’t improve quality, doesn’t lift child care workers, and only improves affordability for the wealthy,” she continued.

Trump’s campaign, however, further claimed in a statement to CNN Tuesday that “the plan also allows parents to exclude child care expenses from half of their payroll taxes—increasing their paycheck income each week.”

“The working poor do face payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare, so a payroll tax break could help them out,” reported CNN. “But experts say it would be hard to administer.”

Meanwhile, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton released her own child care agenda in May, promising to use the federal government to cap child care costs at 10 percent of a family’s income. 

A cap like this, Blank said, “would provide more help to low- and middle-income families.” She continued, “For example, if you had a family with two children earning $70,000, if you capped child care at 10 percent they could probably save … $10,000 a year.”

Clinton’s plan includes a promise to implement a program to address the low wages many who work in the child care industry face, which she calls the “Respect And Increased Salaries for Early Childhood Educators” program, or the RAISE Initiative. The program would raise pay and provide training for child-care workers.

Such policies could make a major difference to child-care workers—the overwhelming majority of which are women and workers of color—who often make poverty-level wages. A 2015 study by the EPI found that the median wage for these workers is just $10.31 an hour, and few receive employer benefits. Those poor conditions make it difficult to attract and retain workers, and improve the quality of care for children around the country. 

Addressing the low wages of workers in the field may be expensive, but according to Rowe-Finkbeiner, it is an investment worth making. “Real investments in child care bring for an average child an eight-to-one return on investment,” she explained. “And that’s because when we invest in quality access and affordability, but particularly a focus on quality … which means paying child-care workers fairly and giving child-care workers professional development opportunities …. When that happens, then we have lower later grade repetition, we have less future interactions with the criminal justice system, and we also have a lower need for government programs in the future for those children and families.

Affordable child care has also been a component of other aspects of Clinton’s campaign platform. The “Military Families Agenda,” for example, released by the Clinton campaign in June to support military personnel and their families, also included a child care component. The former secretary of state’s plan proposed offering these services “both on- and off-base, including options for drop-in services, part-time child care, and the provision of extended-hours care, especially at Child Development Centers, while streamlining the process for re-registering children following a permanent change of station (PCS).” 

“Service members should be able to focus on critical jobs without worrying about the availability and cost of childcare,” said Clinton’s proposal.

Though it may be tempting to laud the simple fact that both major party candidates have proposed a child care plan at all, to Rowe-Finkbeiner, having both nominees take up the cause is a “no-brainer.”

“Any candidate who wants to win needs to take up family economic security policies, including child care,” she said. “Democrats and Republicans alike know that there is a child care crisis in America. Having a baby right now costs over $200,000 to raise from zero to age 18, not including college …. Parents of all political persuasions are talking about this.”

Coming up with the right way to address those issues, however, may take some work.

“We need a bold plan because child care is so important, because it helps families work, and it helps them support their children,” the NWLC’s Blank said. “We don’t have a safety net for families to fall back on anymore. It’s really critical to help families earn the income their children need and child care gives children a strong start.” She pointed to the need for programs that offer families aid “on a regular basis, not at the end of the year, because families don’t have the extra cash to pay for child care during the year,” as well as updates to the current child care tax credits offered by the government.

“There is absolutely a solution, but the comprehensive package needs to look at making sure that children have high-quality child care and early education, and that there’s also access to that high-quality care,” Rowe-Finkbeiner told Rewire. 

“It’s a complicated problem, but it’s not out of our grasp to fix,” she said. “It’s going to take an investment in order to make sure that our littlest learners can thrive and that parents can go to work.”

News Politics

Anti-Choice Crusade Tests ACOG’s Donations to Blackburn

Christine Grimaldi

Republicans' prevailing views on abortion haven’t stopped the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists from contributing to their campaigns for U.S. Congress.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the leader of the congressional crusade to undermine access to abortion care and halt fetal tissue research, received campaign funds from an unlikely donor: the political advocacy arm of the nation’s leading professional association for obstetricians and gynecologists.

Publicly available campaign finance records obtained through the Federal Election Commission reveal that the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) donated $2,000 to Blackburn early in the two-year 2016 federal election cycle. ACOG made the contribution through its political action committee (PAC), Ob-GynPAC, on June 30, 2015—several months before the U.S. House of Representatives voted in October to establish the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives.

ACOG is the 501(c)(6) affiliate of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the membership association for 57,000 such providers across the country.

ACOG supports access to abortion care based on public health and medical evidence. Any contribution to Blackburn may, at first, appear misplaced. Blackburn, a longtime abortion rights foe, has emerged in recent months as the House’s most outspoken critic of an illicit market in “baby body parts” that according to all other accounts—three prior congressional committees, 13 states, and a Texas grand jury—doesn’t exist.

An ACOG spokesperson, however, stressed that Ob-GynPAC is broader than any one issue.

“The PAC often supports candidates and elected officials whom they disagree with on one issue or another because they work with the PAC on another priority,” the spokesperson told Rewire in an email.

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ACOG priorities overlap with some traditionally in the GOP camp: medical liability and Medicare payment reform, health information technology, and Affordable Care Act’s Independent Payment Advisory Board, a yet-to-be-constituted oversight panel to control Medicare costs. Medical groups generally oppose the advisory board, while anti-choice advocates have framed it as a “death panel.”

“Ob-GynPAC’s goal is to achieve real solutions to the issues facing ACOG members, which happens through bipartisan cooperation,” the spokesperson said.

The vast majority of congressional Republicans outright reject public health and medical evidence on abortion and oppose abortion rights, with the measured exception of retiring Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY), who voted in 2015 against defunding Planned Parenthood even as he supports restrictions such as the Hyde Amendment. Hanna received $5,000 from ACOG in the 2016 federal election cycle.

Republicans’ prevailing views on abortion haven’t stopped ACOG from contributing to their campaigns for the House and U.S. Senate.

ACOG split $390,500 almost evenly between Republican and Democratic candidates in the 2016 cycle, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. Notable exceptions include Rep. Trent Franks (R-AL), the author of misleading legislation to ban sex- and race-selective abortion care, and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), perhaps the most abortion-obsessed lawmaker in Congress. Franks and Smith have not received any money since ACOG became operational in 2010, according to Center for Responsive Politics’ data.

The $2,000 contribution to Blackburn marks a retrenchment, as ACOG first gave a $3,500 campaign contribution in the 2012 election cycle. Blackburn received another $4,000 from ACOG in the 2014 cycle.

Some of Blackburn’s top campaign contributors are from the medical field. The American Medical Association, the American College of Emergency Physicians, and the American College of Radiology each gave Blackburn $10,000 in the 2016 federal election cycle, according to Center for Responsive Politics data.

Across the aisle, ACOG donated $7,500 each in the 2016 cycle to Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Diana DeGette (D-CO), two of Blackburn’s adversaries on the select panel. Campaign finance records show that Schakowsky, the panel’s top Democrat, received the last $2,500 of that contribution from ACOG on March 31 of this year—several weeks after Republicans drew comparisons between fetal tissue research and Nazi experimentation at the panel’s first hearing.

ACOG defended both abortion care and fetal tissue research in a March 1 letter to Blackburn and Schakowsky and later that month, reiterated support for “life-saving research” in a statement and joint letter with others from the medical, scientific, and academic communities.

Neither the panel, nor the investigation, have ACOG’s support, the group’s spokesperson told Rewire.

In July, 30 progressive and reproductive health-care groups signed a letter in a bid for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to disband the panel.

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