HomeLearning CenterCongress Crosses the Aisle on Child Care

Congress Crosses the Aisle on Child Care

Originally published by Eleanor Mueller for Politico

As debate over the debt ceiling continues to divide Capitol Hill, a small subset of bipartisan lawmakers are quietly banding together on a different issue: child care.

Reps. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) are preparing to launch the Congressional Bipartisan Affordable Childcare Caucus, they tell Women Rule. Their hope: to excavate a shared path forward on making child care more affordable after Democrats slashed related provisions from their party-line spending package last year.

“The goal is to find areas of common ground — that are pro-family, that are pro-working-class-Americans — and see how we can shape legislation that can get broad support,” Khanna told Women Rule.

But that’s not all.

“Additionally, we recognize the burdensome bureaucratic red tape and barriers which limit access in the child care industry,” Mace told Women Rule. “The caucus will work tirelessly to reduce unnecessary regulations and streamline processes.”

A third priority? “Flexible degree and training requirements, empowering more individuals to pursue careers in the child care field,” Mace said.

The average price of child care in 2022 was $10,853 annually, according to a recent analysis by Child Care Aware of America, a nonprofit network of child care agencies. And there is some evidence that number could be much higher in 2023: Child care costs went up by 6.8 percent annually in March, per the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, compared to 5 percent for inflation overall.

Khanna said he signed on to the push at the urging of Moms First, a nonprofit that advocates for care policies. The group has “been really keen on having a caucus which is bipartisan, with people who can actually move legislation,” he said.

“We’re going to be pushing for equal representation of Democrats and Republicans” in the caucus, Moms First CEO Reshma Saujani said. “Far too often on these issues, it’s a bunch of Democrats getting in a room talking to one another about it, and we’re not bringing along Republicans. And we need to.”

The lawmakers’ caucus will not be the first of its kind. Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) relaunched their Congressional Pre-K and Child Care Caucus alongside First Five Years Fund earlier this week.

What makes Khanna and Mace’s group different? Two things, according to Khanna: his relationship with Mace, with whom he’s worked on legislation before, and their plan to “bring this historical context” to the debate.

“We had universal child care in America in the 1940s,” Khanna said, referencing a period during World War II when the federal government subsidized child care centers so women could work in factories. “It worked. And it’s time to do it again.”

Khanna says the caucus also plans to highlight private-sector employers who are providing workers with child care benefits, including those in his Silicon Valley district.

“Having businesses on the record to say that we believe that this is an economic imperative for our workforce and for the communities that we operate in, and pushing elected officials to get something done on that, I think is what’s going to push us over the edge,” Saujani said.

As it stands, the odds of moving legislation this year are slim. GOP lawmakers have long telegraphed concerns with Democratic proposals on child care — and with swelling federal spending. According to the White House, House Republicans’ recently passed debt ceiling bill could cause 250,000 children to lose access to child care.

Backers of the new caucus hope its members can build a “grassroots effort that’s bipartisan” ahead of 2024, Saujani said.

“We’re bringing together moms from across the aisle that care about child care and paid leave, period, and we’re mobilizing them,” Saujani said. “That’s never been done before.”

“Moms that are Republicans and Democrats will go into their elected officials and say, ‘What’s your position on this?’” Saujani added. “‘Irrespective if we have a Republican president or a Democratic president or a Republican Congress or Democratic Congress, you’re going to commit to getting something done? And that’s my conditions for voting for you.’ And that’s what we need.”

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