Republican attacks on President Joe Biden's latest popular plan don't have much ground to stand on.
Just days after President Joe Biden unveiled his $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, congressional Republicans are already attacking, suggesting it will somehow destroy families.
Biden's proposal is aimed at making an "investment in our children and our families—helping families cover the basic expenses that so many struggle with now, lowering health insurance premiums, and continuing the American Rescue Plan's historic reductions in child poverty." Its provisions include free community college, free universal preschool, paid family leave, more affordable health care, and support to help parents pay for child care.
Biden would pay for the program by raising income taxes on those earning $400,000 or more annually, reversing some of the massive tax cuts they received under Donald Trump's 2017 tax legislation.
Polls show the investments are popular with the American public. A Monmouth University poll released April 26 found 64% support for the plan and just 34% opposition to it. The same poll found that by a 2-1 majority, American adults support the tax hike for the wealthiest individuals.
The White House estimates the plan would actually bring in $1.5 trillion over 10 years.
On Monday, the Republican minority on the House Committee on Education and Labor released a series of attacks on the plan, denouncing it as "President Biden's Crushing American Families Plan."
Their arguments against it include:
1. It's unfair to people without college degrees
"The Biden plan would force Americans who do NOT have a college degree to foot the bill for free community college tuition to ALL students, including illegal immigrants," the committee's minority says. They frame the proposal as an either-or choice, noting, "Republicans want to empower students to get an education that meets their unique needs and sets them up for lifelong success. Democrats want to force Americans to pursue their preferred academic pathway, thereby limiting opportunities and diminishing students' chances to reach their full potential."
Biden's plan offers up to two years of free community college for any student who wants to take advantage of it. As is the case with nearly every government program, the community college plan would be paid for by taxpayers, not just by those who benefit from it directly.
2. We shouldn't offer free community college when many people don't finish it now
The House Republicans argued that free community college is "unnecessary": "The current maximum Pell Grant of $6,495 already covers tuition at most community colleges around the country, as does the average Pell Grant. Dumping money into community colleges, where students have the lowest odds of completing their program within six years, is a recipe for disaster."
But the reason many students struggle to complete higher education is that they cannot afford to. According to a 2018 study, 51% of college students dropped out because of the cost — something Biden's plan would help mitigate. Pell Grants, administered by the federal government on the basis of financial need, do not cover all the costs associated with attending college.
According to Shelbe Klebs, an education policy adviser with the nonprofit policy organization Third Way, "Right now, the Pell Grant only covers around 30% of a college education. It used to cover 80%, but its purchasing power has eroded significantly over time. That's because when students go to college, they don't just have to pay for tuition and fees. They also have related costs like transportation, housing, and food, among others. And while schools have become drastically more expensive, more than doubling tuition costs over recent decades, Congress' funding of the Pell Grant has not kept pace."
3. It might help undocumented kids
The Republicans object to the fact that free community college would be available to undocumented students. They frame it as a program that "Benefits Illegal Immigrants over Citizens," as "Democrats are choosing to give grant money to illegal immigrants for college, and the 57 percent of Americans who don't have a college degree will be stuck footing the bill."
But under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, many of those undocumented students are "not considered to be unlawfully present during the period in which deferred action is in effect" — though the program does not give them legal status.
All kids are guaranteed a free public K-12 education, and the roughly 100,000 undocumented kids who graduate high school annually were typically brought to the United States by their families as kids, through no fault of their own. Many states have already passed laws to guarantee in-state tuition for these so-called Dreamers at state colleges and universities.
4. It's all a plot to indoctrinate babies
Biden's plan calls for a $200 billion federal-state partnership "to offer free, high-quality, accessible, and inclusive preschool to all three- and four-year-olds, benefitting five million children and saving the average family $13,000, when fully implemented."
The Republicans object to this, claiming it "Dictates Government Curriculum for Babies." Though the program does not require families to participate, they warn, "The federal government shouldn't dictate the kind of care young children receive. Parents should be able to decide what is the right fit for their children. The last thing we need is federally determined curriculum for 3- and 4-year-olds."
5. It will shame kids who can afford to bring bag lunches to school
The American Families Plan expands an existing program to allow "high-poverty schools" to provide free meals to all students rather than just those who apply and qualify, which would benefit children whose families "may not apply for them due to stigma or not fully understanding the application process" and "may still be facing food insecurity but make just enough to not qualify for free school meals."
The Republicans say they worry that the intention is to help the wealthy: "We should focus on helping families in need, not providing free meals to the children of wealthy lobbyists and Members of Congress."
They say, "Simply providing more funds in exchange for meeting yet more requirements does not help address getting students to eat school meals and could exacerbate stigma in the program as many families provide their own healthy and enjoyable meals for children."
6. Guaranteed sick leave is unnecessary because some people already have it
Biden's plan would "require employers to allow workers to accrue seven days paid sick leave per year to seek preventative care for them or their family."
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of March 2020 about 22% of civilian workers have no access to paid sick leave benefits.
But the committee minority objects to this, saying, "Republicans understand the importance of voluntary employer benefit programs, including access to paid sick leave." They argue that the mandate "is unnecessary" because 78% of workers already get some paid sick leave, leaving those who receive less than seven days annually and the nearly one in four who receive zero out in the cold.
7. Helping people buy affordable health insurance is unfair to businesses
A provision in Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan provided two years of lower insurance premiums for people who buy health insurance plans on the Obamacare exchanges, a $50-a-month savings on average per person. According to the White House, "The American Families Plan will make those premium reductions permanent, a $200 billion investment. As a result, nine million people will save hundreds of dollars per year on their premiums, and four million uninsured people will gain coverage."
The Republicans on the committee object to this too, saying it "erodes employer-sponsored coverage" and "widens tax inequities between employer-sponsored insurance and insurance offered on the Obamacare exchanges." They argue that making insurance more affordable to people who pay for it out of pocket is unfair to businesses that provide health insurance as part of their employees' compensation, and claim, "Biden's scheme to expand Obamacare also plays into the Democrats' long-term goals of moving to a single payer health care system."
As with Biden's other spending bills, no congressional Republican has endorsed his American Families Plan — despite its popular support.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) slammed the plan on Sunday, calling it "the biggest, radical, socialist takeover of your family."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.