President Obama couldn’t come up with a middle-class tax agenda until his party had lost all control over the legislative branch. This suggests his new tax proposal is little more than meaningless political posturing. After all, if he really wanted these or similar tax cuts and tax hikes, Obama could have advanced them when his party controlled the House and the Senate.
Many commentators have correctly noted that this is the White House’s effort to frame the 2016 election in class-warfare terms. When the tax provisions of the president’s budget die on arrival, Democrats will respond that Republicans are protecting the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.
But rather than ignore Obama’s plan totally, it’s worth studying it as a statement of his values and the values of his party. Doing this, you see it's less class warfare and more culture war. One clear message of the president’s tax plan: Moms who stay at home with their children are less valuable than moms who work for pay.
Obama, alongside his tax hikes on the wealthy and on people who save for their children’s college, proposed tax cuts that go only to dual-income families.
Obama called for a new “second-earner tax credit” and expanding a tax credit for commercial child care. Obama’s second-earner credit is worth $500 for any dual-income family where the lower-income spouse earns between $10,000 and $120,000 (and reduced credits for others between $0 and $210,000).
The president also encouraged Congress to expand the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. The child and dependent care credit is different from the more widely used child tax credit. The child care credit is a 50-percent tax credit for a parent’s first $2,000 in babysitting or daycare costs, but this credit is available only for parents who use the child care to do paid work.
If you hire child care to take your car to the shop, get the kids safely out of range while you paint your living room or just get some peace and quiet while your husband is Iowa for three days covering the presidential caucuses, no tax credit. Hire a babysitter in order to earn your own paycheck, and you get a tax credit.
Obama wants to expand these credits to cover up to $6,000 in child care expenses and to increase the size of a credit that six-figure earners can claim.
Obama explains these tax breaks with a sensible point:
“When both spouses work,” the White House explained in a document laying out these proposals, “the family incurs additional costs in the form of commuting costs, professional expenses, child care, and, increasingly, elder care. When layered on top of other costs, including federal and state taxes, these work-related costs can contribute to a sense that work isn’t worth it, especially for parents of young children.”
Yes, it is costly for a mother to enter the workforce. But it is also costly for a mother to exit or stay out of the workforce. Switching jobs has costs, just as staying in your job has costs. Every life decision includes risks and costs and benefits. Obama has decided that the cost of a mother returning to work and placing her children in daycare is something he wants to subsidize.
Obama is saying he values working parents more than stay-at-home parents.
Working parents acquire new job skills and keep their existing skills fresh. That definitely has value for the family and even the broader economy.
Stay-at-home moms have the opportunity to provide their kids with more positive attention than they can get in most daycare situations. This has positive effects on children. Having a wife at home can also make husbands and fathers more productive in the workplace.
How should we weigh these pros and cons of dual-income families versus single-income families with one spouse staying home?
Here’s the great thing about America: We don’t have to decide which is better for everyone — we just have to decide for our own families. The tax code should be neutral on this choice. Obama wants the tax code to take sides, tilting the scales towards working over staying at home. This is social engineering by Obama.
The good news is that the voters last year made it clear: They have little value for Obama's values.Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Sunday and Wednesday on washingtonexaminer.com.