At her weekly press conference Wednesday morning, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) argued that Sen. Sanders’ (I-Vt.) $3.5 trillion budget represented a long-overdue package to assist women and children through new appropriations, programs, and environmental policies.
The budget, said Pelosi, “is really about the children.” She added later that “My theme all along … has been ‘build back better’ with women.”
An emphasis on women and children has long been Pelosi’s focus in regards to the budget. During the House’s emergency session to advance the budget on Aug. 24, Pelosi made a similar case, pleading with her Democratic colleagues to vote for the package “for the children.”
Pelosi commended the wide-ranging, “transformative” vision of President Biden’s “build back better” agenda. She specifically singled out its new policies and appropriations geared specifically toward women’s and children’s issues.
Pelosi listed a slew of policies geared toward these groups.
Child Tax Credit and Family Leave
First, she mentioned the expansion of the child tax credit in the resolution. This credit offers parents a $1,000 reduction of their federal tax bill for each child they have. Rather than being simply a deduction calculated before the final tax bill, the credit would come directly off the gross total owed in taxes. Because of this, she said, this “Biden tax credit,” is in fact a “Biden tax cut.” This move, Pelosi said, would overwhelmingly help women, who are in many cases the primary caregiver for their children.
Another critical part of the Democratic agenda for the bill would be providing paid family leave. When Sanders introduced the budget, he criticized the United States as being the only developed country without such a system in place. Pelosi only briefly discussed this provision today, but has in the past been very vocal about its importance, especially to women who have just had a baby and are recovering from the strenuous ordeal of childbirth.
Paid family leave has long been a Democratic hope, dating back to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, signed by President Bill Clinton after being vetoed twice by Bush. This provided new requirements that employers in both the public and private sectors allow their employees unpaid family leave under certain conditions.
Proponents of paid family leave won a small victory in March 2020 when President Donald Trump’s signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which allowed some employees to receive paid leave for loss of income due to the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes the COVID-19 disease.
But these benefits were temporary. Under the budget bill, Pelosi and Democrats hope to expand the system dramatically. When presenting the resolution, Sanders said that mothers should not have to choose between taking care of their new baby and keeping their income.
Pelosi also referenced provisions in the budget that would offer government-funded childcare, a policy that Pelosi emphasized as being among the most helpful to women raising children.
To justify this, Pelosi pointed to efforts by Congress to pass similar legislation 50 years before. At the time, Pelosi said, everyone thought President Richard Nixon would sign it. This was not the case however, Pelosi continued, after Patrick Buchanan, a strong 1992 Republican challenger to President George H. W. Bush, “intervened and made [the program] a cultural issue, like we’re sending our children to a Soviet-style situation by having childcare.” Though the House and Senate had passed the legislation, this attack on the program by Buchanan led to the president vetoing the bill in 1971.
Since then, Pelosi said, the issue of government-funded childcare has been an especially important one to her, explaining “If we are going to build back better, we have to do so including many more people, starting with women, who took the biggest hit … [from] COVID.” According to the speaker, the pandemic hit women especially hard because their children could not go to school; If these women could not afford childcare, they would have little choice but to stay home to take care of their children.
Finally, Pelosi emphasized programs in the bill that would help caregivers of disabled parents or siblings to be able to get back to work by providing in-home healthcare to those who needed it. Pelosi turned toward the camera and said to people in such a role, “this bill is for you.”
She then turned to how broader economic and environmental themes in the expansive budget would benefit children and their families.
Pelosi said: “[The budget] will deliver one of the largest tax cuts for families ever … it will lower costs for healthcare, childcare, and the rest, and it will create millions of jobs while tackling the climate crisis and advancing justice.”
One of the key shortcomings for Pelosi in the infrastructure bill was its lack of environmental programs. These are “hardly addressed” in that bill “for obvious reasons.” The budget is much more comprehensive on these policies, Pelosi said.
Pelosi linked ongoing disasters from wildfires in the west and Hurricane Ida in the southeast to climate change. She said: “Mother Nature is not happy with how we recognize the challenges that face us. Climate change is real [and] humans have an impact on it.”
She criticized the power of the fossil fuel industry, saying that lobbyists from the industry have too much power, but that the budget would limit that by funding research and development of clean energy. The United States should lead the world in this field, Pelosi said. The budget as outlined by Sanders would devote a total of $265 billion toward an “extremely aggressive [transformation] of the U.S. energy system away from fossil fuels.”
She told the audience “If you believe as I do that this planet is God’s creation as I do, then you believe that it’s our responsibility to be good stewards of it.” She tied this responsibility to be good stewards back to the benefits to children again, saying “We owe it to our children to pass on the planet in a responsible way.”
The speaker shrunk back from committing to cutting any of these provisions to satiate moderate Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), who have both said that they will not vote for such an expensive bill. “What would you cut?” she asked. She then answered her own question, stating that childcare, paid family leave, and home healthcare are “so important,” recoiling at the thought of cutting any of these programs.
Pelosi summarized the legislation’s benefits to women and children as being “about the future.” The budget, she concluded, “takes us into the future for the children.”