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With Roe at risk, GOP faces pressure to support families after birth

Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD) at a hearing on Capitol Hill on March 3, 2022 in Washington, D.C.Pool/Getty

WASHINGTON — Republican lawmakers are facing renewed internal pressure to support child benefit programs for parents after a leaked opinion on Monday showed the Supreme Court is prepared to strike down federal abortion protections.

The GOP has adamantly opposed President Biden’s proposals to provide cash payments for parents, universal prekindergarten, and other family benefit programs such as expanded child-care subsidies. But with the Supreme Court appearing poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, even some Republican senators are acknowledging that the party may need to do more to provide support for parents.

A court decision overturning Roe would lead about half the states to make abortion illegal immediately or soon after the Supreme Court acted. The ruling is the culmination of a decades-long Republican project but could also put a spotlight on the party’s resistance to efforts to aid parents.

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‘’I think that needs to be an important part of the discussion,’’ Senator Mike Rounds, Republican of South Dakota, said in an interview. ‘’It’s not just a matter of saying, ‘We are pro-life.’ It’s a matter, then, of promoting and allowing these people who are making very difficult decisions with their lives to make sure we can help individuals facing these tough decisions.’’

Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri said he has had ‘’preliminary’' conversations with other Senate Republicans about coming forward with child programs after the Supreme Court ruling: ‘’I do think if the court does ultimately overturn Roe, it will be a big sea change politically, and I think there will be all kinds of new opportunities to think about what that means for us from a policy perspective, and I hope we’ll come forward with new and interesting policy perspectives.’’

‘’We’re of course waiting for the ruling to be finalized, but yes,’’ said Senator Todd C. Young, Republican of Indiana. ‘’We as a party and as a country need to be supportive of women who have unplanned pregnancies — through adoptive services, through health care services, and other means.’’

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For months, conservative policy-makers had been discussing if the party could get behind a more modest expansion in family benefits than the proposals supported by Democrats or the White House should Roe be struck down, according to three conservative policy experts, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reflect private conversations. Those talks have yielded no changes to the party’s stance. Only Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, has supported a major expansion in the Child Tax Credit to parents who are not working. Biden’s one-year expansion of the credit expired at the end of last year amid almost uniform GOP opposition, leading to an approximately 41 percent spike in child poverty.

Democrats say the Republican opposition to child benefits only underscores the recklessness of the push to overturn abortion protections, arguing that the GOP wants both to force mothers to have children and then deprive them of material support for raising kids. Democrats have long been skeptical that Republican talk of child policy amounts to anything more than a political stunt designed to distract from conservative opposition to economic benefits for families.

‘’Not only do [Republicans] want to force women to have children if they are pregnant, but when they do have them, they don’t want to provide any support for them,’’ Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, said. ‘’That’s what the Republicans do all the time.’’

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On Tuesday, Senator Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, said he opposes efforts to create programs that would reward parents who do not work, reiterating traditional GOP concerns with expanded parental benefits. Senator Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, another free-market conservative, said he had not given thought to the idea of expanded child benefit support. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said Republicans will look to ‘’enact policies that make it easier for families to raise kids,’’ predicting a slew of new measures to be introduced, but also suggested the GOP would oppose new spending measures.

Already, blocs of congressional Republicans have begun looking at various forms of family support policy. About a dozen Senate Republicans have backed legislation to allow pregnant people to access the Child Tax Credit, which currently only is awarded to parents with children, while Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, has a separate proposal to give a new $3,600 payment for those who have miscarriages. Senator Cynthia M. Lummis, Republican of Wyoming, also pointed to bipartisan legislation that allows parents to receive the Child Tax Credit in advance to help pay for parental leave. Romney has been trying to pitch his colleagues on a compromise to revive the Child Tax Credit at a lower level than that approved by the Biden administration last year.

All these efforts are expected to gain renewed attention in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision.

‘’There’s going to be a lot of pressure on Republicans to see what they can do for young kids,’’ said Sam Hammond, a policy expert at the Niskanen Center, a right-leaning think tank, who works closely with several Senate GOP offices. ‘’Leading Senate Republicans who are typically skeptical have been showing renewed interest in policies to help parents shoulder the cost of children.’’

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