As Governor Roy Cooper signs the state budget into law this week, two federal spending bills have been making their way through Congress, and they contain some troubling policy implications for North Carolina families.
One of these spending bills is entitled the “Build Back Better Bill,” and at 2,100 pages long, it can seem nearly impossible to understand. Thankfully, our friends at Family Research Council have written an analysis entitled “Six Things to Know About Biden’s Anti-Family Budget Buster.” FRC’s Director of Federal Affairs for Life and Human Dignity Connor Semelsberger wrote the analysis, and he joins Traci DeVette Griggs on this week’s episode of the Family Policy Matters radio show and podcast.
Semelsberger argues that the “Build Back Better Bill”—which has been couched as a “family” bill by the Biden Administration—fails to understand what working families actually want, and actually punishes parents for wanting to spend time with their children. Families want “policies that promote freedom and flexibility for working families to find the best childcare work situation that meets their family’s needs,” says Semelsberger. “What this bill attempts to do is take a one-size-fits-all model—mostly preferred by really well-educated, PhD and up levels and well-off Americans—and put that model on for the rest of American families.”
Another troubling factor in the “Build Back Better Bill” is its lack of pro-life riders, or amendments that direct where our tax dollars can and cannot go. For decades, these riders have prevented taxpayer dollars from directly funding abortions, both domestically and abroad, but this bill would radically shift established policy and allow our dollars to go towards abortion in numerous ways.
The bill also negatively impacts families through marriage and education, says Semelsberger. It weakens the institution of marriage through marriage penalties in the tax code, and expands public education to include three and four-year-old preschool that features a statewide curriculum. “If only we could trust the state curriculums,” says Semelsberger. “But when you see what’s coming out of places like California, where they’re suggesting teaching gender ideology as early as three and four years old?” This is a dangerous proposal for families of faith in particular.
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Connor Semelsberger share more about how the so-called “Build Back Better” bill is actually an “Anti-Family Budget Buster.”
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. President Biden and Congress have been working hard at negotiating a pair of spending bills that would move forward the president’s campaign agenda. The infrastructure bill that passed in early November and the much larger, policy-focused Build Back Better Bill have large price tags and sweeping policy implications, both of which may be causes for concern among American families.
Here to help us break down what is in these bills and their potential impact on families is Connor Semelsberger of Family Research Council. Connor serves as FRC’s Director of Federal Affairs for Life and Human Dignity, where he lobbies Congress and federal agencies and serves as FRC’s spokesman on pro-life issues. He recently published an analysis of the Build Back Better bill, entitled “Six Things to Know About Biden’s Anti-Family Budget Buster.”
Connor Semelsberger, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
CONNOR SEMELSBERGER: Great to be on.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Well to begin, there are actually two major spending bills that have been making their way through Congress this year. So help us to separate which is which, if you would.
CONNOR SEMELSBERGER: So the real way to look at this is actually as a passing of all of Biden’s agenda that he ran on. He ran on jobs; he ran on transforming families. So it’s one big agenda, but split up into two separate bills. One is more focused on the roads and bridges, but don’t worry, there’s some nefarious provisions in there as well. That passed through with bipartisan support, much more common sense. The second, much larger package is all those progressive social spending plans that Biden ran on and are trying to pass through Congress now.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: You mentioned that there are portions of that infrastructure bill that already passed in early November that we should be concerned about. Tell us why.
CONNOR SEMELSBERGER: Yeah, so it’s couched as a bipartisan bill. So Republicans—18 in the Senate and 13 in the House—voted for this infrastructure bill to build some roads and bridges like we talked about, but went way beyond that. One provision we particularly had a concern with was in the digital equity provision to expand broadband access. On the surface, a good goal. Inserted right in there was a poison pill language that would elevate sexual orientation and gender identity to protected classes, undervaluing what it means to be married and can actually be targeted against the religious folks and those that believe in traditional marriage, all under the guise of a social gender ideology that most Americans disagree with. That was inserted right in there, and it’s unfortunate because good, conservative Republicans signed up for this bill to build roads and bridges, all while knowing that this bad provision was inserted into the bill.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Tell us now what the Build Back Better bill will do. A little bit more on that, please.
CONNOR SEMELSBERGER: Yeah, so it’s couched as a family’s plan by President Biden, but we like the term the “Anti-Families Budget Buster,” because it’s not really for families, and boy, does it bust the American budget. Again, this is all of the other provisions that progressive Democrats have run on, everything from universal childcare, Pre-K, paid family leave—all these things that are trying to reshape America—the green new deal, raising our taxes along the way. So that’s what this package is. It’s couched “Building Back Better,” but really what it is is when you peel back the 2,100 pages of this bill (a massive bill) these programs do a lot more to dismantle American family life rather than build them up.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So talk a little more in detail about what kinds of things are in this Build Back Better bill that we as family advocates should particularly be concerned about.
CONNOR SEMELSBERGER: This bill attempts to put new programs out for American families, but the main issue is that the Biden Administration and Democrats in Congress have a misunderstanding of what American families really want. Instead of actually giving families what they want—policies that promote freedom and flexibility for working families to find the best childcare work situation that meets their family’s needs—instead, what this bill attempts to do is take a one-size-fits-all model—mostly preferred by really well-educated, PhD and up levels and well-off Americans—and put that model on for the rest of American families. So that’s the real danger is that it’s couched as helping families, but these policies are not really what working families want and actually make them worse off by rising their taxes and benefiting those families that are already more well-off.
Many surveys, you look at what do families want when terms of a work situation, and almost all income categories prefer to have one parent working full-time and one parent either staying at home or only working part-time to take care of their children. That’s what almost every economic class of families wants, except for those high income earners. So instead of actually providing policies that do that, that allow the flexibility, this policy actually incentivizes all parents to be two full-time employed parents and send their kids to childcare and institutional centers rather than providing childcare themselves or having a close family member provide childcare in the home. So that’s where the disconnect really is. Again, it’s putting both mothers and fathers, regardless of what they want, both into full-time working jobs, instead of giving them the time or maybe the financial resources they need to care for their own kids. They want those children to be into their grasp as early as possible, even just after birth, so that they can be caring for them from infancy all the way through college age.
So when you read these bills, it’s not very explicit like, ” If you’re a stay-at-home mom, you get nothing, and if you’re two working parents, you get everything you want.” It’s not as explicit as that, but it’s how these programs are designed in the base text of these bills. So you talk about maybe the childcare program or some of our other broader tax laws, they are written in a way that provides a financial benefit; we’re giving you a benefit to use this money, to send a kid to a Head Start program, or send your child to a daycare at your local public school. But the thing is there’s incentives or financial vouchers for parents to do that. But what if a family decides that they don’t want to send their kid there and they’d rather just stay home and care for their own kid? They don’t get any economic benefit at all. And so there’s a financial incentive there. “Hey, well, I might as well go back to work because if I do, our childcare will be free; it’ll be paid for, and I can send my kid right up the street.”
So that’s how these things work. Again, it’s not very explicit, but when you look at who gets the benefit and who does not get a benefit, it’s really clear where the incentives are. And then we look at who’s paying for these. Those families that only have one income coming in to care for all their kids that are their family, they’re the ones being taxed and paying for the childcare for those families that choose to take the free benefits. So it is sort of in the weeds, but it’s good to understand how these actually interact, who’s getting the benefits and who’s not getting the benefits.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Well, let’s talk about some of these longstanding pro-life budget measures, which have been, for many years, bipartisan. Why are they going away? What’s going on with that?
CONNOR SEMELSBERGER: It’s been a major break from the consensus vote, which was regardless of everyone’s position on abortion, everybody could agree that our taxpayer dollars should not be funding or subsidizing abortion. That sentiment has held true for 40+ years from all sides of the aisle. But as the Democratic Party has continued to go down a more radical and ideological lens to the left, as that’s shifted, these bipartisan consensus with these riders—again, which protect our taxpayer funds from funding abortion—have been kicked to the wayside. It started in the 2016 campaign with Hillary Clinton. The Democratic Party platform called for the removal of the Hyde Amendment, the most famous of these policy riders, and it’s only increased since then. These riders, they’re amendments that direct where our tax dollars go, and again, they’ve said we should not fund abortions; we should not coerce physicians to be referring or performing abortions against their will if they don’t want to; stopping our taxpayer dollars from paying for abortions overseas; many, many different amendments like this over the years. Almost all of them are zeroed in on by these pro-abortion members of Congress to remove and send our taxpayer dollars to pay for abortion in ways that they’ve never had in the history of our country.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Well, let’s dig in on the marriage issue a bit. Why do you argue that the Build Back Better bill will actually weaken the institution of marriage?
CONNOR SEMELSBERGER: In our tax code, marriage for many, many years has been penalized for several reasons. Thankfully, Republicans in Congress—with the help of President Trump—fixed a lot of those when they passes their tax cuts bill in 2017. But what remains are some existing marriage penalties and a lot of what we call our “means tested programs.” That’s things like the earned income tax credit for low income women that might have children. Also SNAP, which is a food supplemental program. Programs like that have marriage penalties. So if you’re more in the lower class and you’re a single person and you’re getting a certain benefit, if you choose to be married, your tax bill might double or even triple if you choose to marry. So that’s what we call a marriage penalty. So we know that these things exist, and FRC has been here trying to peel those back and actually make marriage be a positive thing in the tax code, not a negative.
But what this bill does is instead of attempting to remove those penalties, they’re actually increasing these marriage penalties. Again, it’s not an overt thing. like, “Look here, we don’t like marriage and we’re going to double everyone’s tax penalties if they get married!” It’s not how that looks in the bill. It’s just a restructuring of these existing programs to change who’s eligible and where the benefits go. When you look at the numbers, these marriage penalties are actually exacerbated; they put a more negative hit on maybe a low-income woman with a young child that finds a good partner and wants to get married. Her and her husband would actually face a higher tax bill than if she would remain single and that the couple would cohabitate. So that’s why it’s not promoting marriage. It’s actually disincentivizing couples to be and to stay married.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Okay, we’re kind of buzzing through these. How is the Build Back Better bill going to affect education, do you think?
CONNOR SEMELSBERGER: So the education policies are a big push in this bill, and what the Biden Administration wanted to do was expand public education. Instead of from kindergarten to 12th grade, they want to add two more years at the beginning—preschool, three and four-year-old—and two years at the end—two years of free community college. The community college provisions, because of expenses, had to be stripped out, but they’ve zeroed in on expanding universal preschool for all kids in all states, three and four-year-olds. Again, we already have a program like this with Head Start that helps low income families get preschool education, but the real detriment with the education here is that it forces out faith-based providers. So if you’re a faith-based preschool program, like the one I went to at my local church, you don’t get any subsidy. You’re actually crowded out because you’d have to take on all these expanded requirements that they just would not be able to accept.
In addition to that, though, it really detriments education because it’s wanting to pull kids out of the nucleus of their family environment, where they’re learning from their parents and their family members, and put them into childcare programs that are much earlier age education programs. And they mandate—this is the big key here—they would mandate each state have a statewide curriculum for these preschool programs. And boy, if only we could trust the state curriculums, that would be okay. But when you see what’s coming out of places like California, where they’re suggesting teaching gender ideology as early as three and four years old, and then potentially if they’re part of this program, mandating it for all preschool programs across the state? Boy, does that get really detrimental for our youth, teaching them things that are totally not just irrational, but against what their parents would want to be teaching them in the home. So it’s really attacking the core of education at earlier and earlier ages.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: What about religious organizations? What sort of impacts do you expect this bill to have, in its current form at least, on their ability to continue to do their work?
CONNOR SEMELSBERGER: For religious organizations, really it’s “Need not apply.” Again, like the pro-life ryders, there’s been a consensus that while the federal government cannot subsidize religious activities themselves ,like a religious ed class, they can help provide subsidies for churches or Catholic or Christian schools that provide childcare programs or Pre-K programs, provide books, provide maybe facilities, things like that that can help educate youth because they’re doing the job of what the government would otherwise have to do. These religious educators, religious schools, and childcare programs are already doing, and instead of allowing them to participate like they already have through various federal programs, they say “Need not apply.” And if you do, you might be accepted, but you would have to accept all of these mandates on marriage, on life, abortion, you name it, that a religious employer, if they stuck to their religious convictions, would not be able to accept.
So it crowds out religious providers instead of a bringing-in-all approach to educating youth; they don’t want religious groups involved. So that’s a real problem here and in the text of the bill. So hopefully there’s still changes that can be made that can actually just go back to the status quo of allowing these providers to participate in programs like this, provide some financial subsidies so that a kid can take this childcare tax credit or childcare program. Instead of going to the public school for Pre-K, they could actually go to their church’s preschool that might be in their church basement.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Connor Semelsberger, how can our listeners read your report, “Six Things to Know about Biden’s Anti-Family Budget Buster,” and also follow the progress of this legislation?
CONNOR SEMELSBERGER: You can log onto frc.org/spending to find our new resource that shows six things to know about the anti-family budget buster. To follow along for progress of this bill, I encourage you to sign up for our Action Alerts at frcaction.org, and that’ll give timely updates as these bills continue to move through the House of Representatives, and then the Senate, and potentially the president’s desk. We’ll keep you updated on how you can take action to let your members of Congress and your Senators know how you feel about the provisions in this bill.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Connor Semelsberger, FRC’s Director of Federal Affairs for Life and Human Dignity, thank you so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters.
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