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ICYMI: Rubio Joins All Things Considered
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) joined National Public Radio’s All Things Considered to discuss his plan to expand the child tax credit for working families. See below for the full transcript and listen to the edited interview here.
On the connection between the child tax credit and work:
“The way we’ve always viewed the child tax credit is, you have a job, and you get to expense the costs of raising children the way businesses get to expense the investments they make. If we can have tax breaks for businesses that make investments, we most certainly should have the ability of working people to keep more of the money they earn in order to to raise their children, which is the most important investment we’re making in our country. That’s what the tax credit has always been. It is a credit against taxes.
“The problem was that people under a certain income level had no income tax liability to apply it to, which is why we always argued that it should be applied, at least part of it, towards the payroll tax, which is the primary tax liability of working parents. That’s why in 2017 I threatened to vote against tax reform unless we increased the child tax credit at that time, and we were able to be successful in getting that done. Not to the levels we wanted, I had to fight with my own party on it, but at least we got that expansion.
“It requires you to have a job because it requires you to have some tax liability that the credit applies towards. I also think it recognizes that the purpose of this program always was and should continue to be to allow working parents raising children to be able to keep more of the money they earn, to be able to afford or help afford the costs of raising children in the modern economy.”
On ways to reduce child poverty:
“I agree that poverty alleviation is an important goal that we need to have. One of the best ways to do that is to have an economy that takes into account the need, not just to create profits and GDP growth, but to [produce] stable, reliable work that pays enough so that people can afford to start families and build stable communities. But that’s part of a much broader conversation. When it comes to a tax credit, it’s a credit against the tax liability.
“What distinguishes me from some, including in my own party, is that I believe that that should extend [the child tax credit] to payroll tax liability that working families have who may not owe anything on income tax because they’re below a certain threshold. That certainly, I think, is the better approach. [The problem with] disconnecting the child tax credit from work is a lesson that was learned as far back as 1996 when Bill Clinton, a Democrat, worked with Congress to enact welfare reform and add work requirements to cash welfare programs. Within 10 years, child poverty fell by more than a fourth.”
On the conservative argument for expanding the child tax credit:
“There’s no more important investment in our country than our families and the children that they’re raising. If we are a party that believes that the most important institution in any culture and society is family and community, and that the backbone of family and community are parents raising children…, then what better investment is there than this?
“When we had the debate about tax reform in 2017, I was fine with the corporate tax cut. I thought that was important. But I argued that the corporate tax cut could be slightly adjusted by, I think it was like seven tenths of 1 percent to pay for the increase in the child tax credit that I was asking for, and [I] got a lot of blowback from some in our party.
“Again, I think that we’re either going to be a pro-family party or we’re not. And if we are, then empowering parents to keep more of what they earn to weather the increasing costs of raising children in the 21st century is something we need to be for.”
On the rise of child poverty:
“You basically had one year in which you had a child allowance that wasn’t a child tax credit from $2,000 per child to $3,600 per child. Suddenly families are reporting $3,600 per child zero to five and $3,000 for children above six up to 17. And then it expires. So you’re going to have that jump.
“That is different from what we’re trying to achieve here. We’re trying to achieve an economy that produces the kind of work that [empowers families to rise above poverty]. That’s a much bigger struggle, and that really should be the cornerstone of what our focus is on economic policy. Yes, able-bodied people have an obligation to work, but policymakers have an obligation to foster an economy that creates that work, that creates stable, reliable work, that allows you to raise children and have a family. I think we’ve lost that focus over the last 20 or 30 years as we have seen economic decisions driven purely by market outcomes without considering the national interest in regards to the creation of that stable work. I think this is a cornerstone issue that we confront in our country.
“I think that child poverty is a function of the fact that many of those reliable jobs that once sustained the American working class have either been sent to other countries or completely eliminated. And that’s an ongoing but much broader challenge than whether we’re going to send out a government check, irrespective of whether you’re working or not, of $3,600 or $3,000 per child.”
On the importance of work:
“This is not just an argument about people not wanting to work. As I’ve just said, and I’ll say again, it’s about producing the [right] kind of work. You have to have an economy that produces work that doesn’t just provide a paycheck, but a paycheck that is reliable, that you don’t have to worry [about being] eliminated in six months, and that pays enough.
“That means investing in what I hope would be a bipartisan governing consensus that our economic policy needs to be driven by two things. The first is, we have to have economic growth. That means companies have to be able to make money and make a profit, or people will stop creating companies and growing them. But that alone is not enough. You have to make sure that it’s the kind of growth that also creates reliable, good-paying American jobs. I think we’ve focused a lot on the first piece of it and not enough on the second piece of it that is in our national interest.
“To your point about people that are working or trying to work and still can’t make enough, I think that’s a much broader argument as to why our economic policies need to take into account that our national economic interest is not simply driven by how fast our economy is growing, but also by, what kinds of jobs is it creating? Is it creating jobs for people that don’t have advanced degrees, that don’t have four-year degrees, but people that maybe just graduated high school? We’re not creating enough jobs that pay enough for people in that category, which represents close to 50 percent of our population.”
On the benefits of work requirements in general:
“I think most people would say, if you are able bodied and capable of working, the government should not send you money and say you can receive it forever without ever having to go out and work or find a job. I just don’t think that makes sense for anyone, and few people would ever admit that. What they would argue is, these are people that are looking for a job but can’t find one.
“A lot of people decide, I’m not going to go to work when what I make is going to require me to pay even more in child care. If child care is more expensive than your paycheck, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to go to work, as one example. I think part of what you’re seeing is a lot of labor availability, a labor need because people are saying, there’s these jobs out there, but they don’t really pay enough for me to go out and work.
“I think that argues that it’s not just about job creation. When these numbers come out every month about [the] jobs created in the economy, it’s not just creating jobs. It has to be jobs that pay enough to sustain a family. We need to have more economic focus [on that]. It needs to be as big a priority in our economic policies as GDP growth is or some of these other measures that we’ve traditionally used….
“As far as programs are concerned, I think a social safety net is important. I don’t think you can have a free enterprise economy without a safety net. But the safety net should be designed to help people who have hit tough times get back on their feet and get back out there again. That’s why our safety net program should not be designed as a permanent way of life. When you create programs that sort of create an economic incentive of that nature, you are in essence discouraging work or labor participation. And we shouldn’t be doing that either.
“It’s two things. We have to have government programs that help people get back on their feet, but not become a way of life. And we need to have an economy that creates the kinds of jobs that we’re asking people to fill.”
On reports of children losing weight:
“It’s terrible to hear that in the most advanced economy in the history of the world, in the wealthiest nation in the world, where an extraordinary amount of wealth is being produced every day. We don’t envy that wealth, and we don’t discourage it. But I think it…points to the point I’ve made now a number of times in this interview, and that is that when we made the decision 20 or 30 years ago that the only thing that mattered was efficiency in our economy, we completely ignored our national interest in having an economy that both created economic growth and at the same time created stable, reliable, dignified, good-paying jobs for Americans. We created an environment where people are struggling now to find that kind of work.
“The other [problem] is inflation. The truth is that even when you look at these inflation figures that come out, and they say, inflation is not growing by as fast as it should, when you look at the basic essentials, food, gasoline prices, the things that people in that realm that you’ve just described have to pay on the baseline of their lives, all those prices have climbed alarmingly high for everyone. That, of course, puts an even greater strain on those that are struggling to begin with to find jobs that pay enough.
“If there’s no way your paycheck in those jobs that they could potentially fill have kept pace with inflation, [that] again calls to mind the [importance] of having a nation that makes things, that grows its own food, that is not overly reliant on and therefore vulnerable to either global disruption or market disruptions. Inflation is something that we measure…. How we measure inflation traditionally [does] not sufficiently take into account what it means when the things that cost more, sometimes [by] 200 percent increases, are the basic necessities.”
On the relationship between the child tax credit and child poverty:
“Children, irrespective of the conditions, should not be punished because parents don’t want to go work or can’t find a job. The point is, there’s a bunch of other programs out there…. We should have the debate over whether there should be an increase in nutritional assistance or whether there needs to be a more targeted focus on some of those social safety net programs for purposes of helping children who face these circumstances.
“My argument with the tax credit is, it’s what it’s always been. The child tax credit has always been and has widely been accepted as a tax credit to be applied towards earnings. That doesn’t mean that you don’t want to help people that face difficult circumstances, but the child tax credit is separate, has always been separate, and should remain separate from welfare and anti-poverty programs.
“If you turn it into just simply a transfer payment, you’ve actually gutted the tax credit concept. I think you endanger it moving forward, because that’s not what people signed up for or thought they were voting for when they first authorized it. It’s tough enough as it is to get it increased, much less if you turn it into a transfer payment. You might as well not even call it a tax credit anymore. It becomes a transfer payment program.”
On finding common ground to reduce child poverty:
“I don’t know of anybody who’s in favor of children being in poverty. I think the debate has to be over how you solve it. I think one of the things we need to discuss in this country more broadly is what should be the primary driver of public policy, both domestic and foreign. I think the answer is the national interest.
“How do you define the national interest and the common good? I believe when it comes to economics, you describe it as such: you have to have a vibrant, growing economy that encourages people to invest money, to create new businesses, and grow. We have no problem with people making a lot of money if they start a business and are very successful. That is important, and that is essential. But that alone is not enough. Part of that equation has to be, are they creating wealth and growth and prosperity in a way that is also creating good, stable, reliable work for millions and millions of American workers?
“That second part of the equation is what has been left out for the last 20 or 30 years. It didn’t matter if a company sent a bunch of jobs to China or some other country around the world, because the argument was, don’t worry, better jobs will come and replace the jobs that were lost. That hasn’t worked out that way. It has left millions of people locked out of the promise of our economy, and it’s part of the drivers behind the polarization and division in this country.
“We need a governing consensus in this country that economic policy needs to be about two things: growth and prosperity in a free enterprise economy and the creation of good, reliable, dignified work for American workers, including those that don’t have four-year degrees from a college or advanced education from a master’s program or what have you.”