UC Berkeley Point of View
Child care: Crying out for a compassionate approach from the Bush Administration
BERKELEY – LaTasha feels quite lucky. She's one of 9 million mothers who each morning swoop by preschool or grandma's house, drop off their youngster with a fleeting hug, then zoom to work. But LaTasha no longer must spend a huge chunk of her paycheck on child care. She has won a high-quality, publicly funded slot close to Japantown, "a school day care (with) classrooms, instead of sitting around watching TV all day and never going outside." Without this support, she couldn't afford to work as a receptionist.
(Bonnie Powell photo)
Work often doesn't pay for low-income parents, who spend up to a quarter of their income on child care, according to the Census Bureau. So, the U.S. Senate's remarkable bipartisan vote last week to expand local child-care programs by $6 billion over five years was a huge relief to parents such as LaTasha.
The legislation may become a godsend for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as well. If approved by Congress later this spring – passage is by no means certain, given President Bush's opposition – Washington would send almost $1 billion in new child-care funding to California families. It would diffuse opposition to one of Schwarzenegger's curious budget priorities: chopping child-care support by another $130 million next year, on top of this year's $148 million cut. Mothers are losing their child care as Schwarzenegger opposes any tax increase on California's millionaires, a group that now reaps more than $8 billion each year from Bush's three successive tax cuts.
Schwarzenegger's political alter-ego, Hollywood producer Rob Reiner, is in the governor's face, teaming up with the teachers' unions to qualify a $6 billion tax measure for the November ballot that would dramatically expand all children's access to preschool.
But the governor can't start counting his chickens yet. Showing no sympathy for Republican governors trying to close budget deficits, Bush reiterated his opposition to Republican Sen. Olympia Snow's child-care proposal the day before the Senate's 78-20 vote. Instead, Bush wants to cut child-care support for 400,000 working families now funded by the federal program created in 1990 by the president's father and Rep. George Miller, D- Martinez. The program aids 2 million families nationwide who earn less than $34,000 annually. Instead, Bush wants to spend $1.5 billion for unproven marriage counseling efforts – a pro-marriage thrust against the political foil of gay marriage.
Conventional wisdom has it that Bush will move toward the political center as the presidential campaign intensifies. But as his lost opportunity on child care vividly demonstrates, the White House seems rudderless when it comes to focusing on domestic issues, even when Republican moderates put forward pro-work initiatives. Faced with unrelenting opposition to the president's "No Child Left Behind" reforms, for example, the Bush administration has announced four doses of regulatory relief, undercutting Bush's attempt to paint his Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., as someone who flip-flops on issues.
Other policy fiascos have beset the White House in recent months. The much ballyhooed Medicare prescription drug bill, it turns out, will cost taxpayers $140 billion more than the president first claimed. What remains mysterious is how the White House can so consistently bungle chances to advance policies that aid families and spark employment – even at Bush's own political peril. Why isn't Schwarzenegger, with such a direct stake in federal support for working families, eagerly attempting to enlighten his fellow Republicans in Washington?
These questions are not just for policy wonks to ponder.
They matter every day for mothers such as LaTasha, who
was earning $12.35 an hour when she won the public child-care
slot. She's still at work, still delighted by the "good
place" her daughter attends each day. But these good
places for children are set to disappear unless truly compassionate
conservatives in the White House – and our self-proclaimed
moderate governor in Sacramento – offer solid support
for working parents and their young children.