Calling to Extend the Child Tax Credit Expansion

I appreciate the opportunity to address the Senate on an issue of real importance to our country and to families in Colorado and all across the United States.

Today, 120 economists wrote an open letter — in the face of the inflation that we’re now facing as a nation as a result of the economic growth that we are having coming out of this very deep recession, and the supply chain interruptions that have caused inflation — 120 economists sent an open letter saying that, “the expanded Child Tax Credit is one of the easiest, most effective and direct tools currently at our disposal to help families deal with the impact of inflation on family budgets. The expert opinions about the causes of and solutions to rising inflation are as varied as the authors of this letter,” they wrote. “But we agree on this: the expanded Child Tax Credit is too small to meaningfully increase inflation across the whole economy…”

That means the $100 billion a year that the Child Tax Credit costs to lift half the kids out of poverty isn’t going to drive inflation in a $21 trillion economy. That’s one of the points these economists agreed on.

“But,” they wrote, “It will make an important difference for family budgets, especially families in the bottom half of the income spectrum. Monthly Child Tax Credit payments are a proven success at helping families keep up with the everyday costs of keeping a family afloat.”

Mr. President, I’d ask to enter this letter into the record.

THE PRESIDING OFFICER

Without objection.

SENATOR BENNET

Thank you. Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you. This is no surprise to me. I was for the Child Tax Credit before we had COVID. Because for the last 50 years, as I’ve said before on this floor, we had an economy that has worked really well for the top 10% of Americans and basically hasn’t worked for anybody else. We have some of the lowest economic mobility in the industrialized world. We’ve got some of the greatest income inequality in the industrialized world.

Stunningly, stunningly, in the last two economic downturns, economic inequality has only gotten staggeringly worse in this country because of the massive asset inflation that’s benefited the wealthiest people in the economy who are in the position to make money on their money, or in the case of a lot of people, on real estate in Colorado that’s making it harder and harder and harder for working people to find a place to live.

And I can tell you, Mr. President, that our kids pay the highest price from this. I was the superintendent of the Denver Public Schools before I was in this job. The majority of kids were kids of color. The majority of kids were kids living in poverty.

And their families were working — contrary to what some people around here think — their families were working two and three jobs. The problem wasn’t that their families weren’t working. It wasn’t that they weren’t working hard. They were killing themselves, and no matter what they did, they couldn’t get their kids out of poverty.

And that’s not a consequence of anything that is their fault. They’re doing everything they can. For that matter, their kids are doing everything they can — going to schools that ought to do a better job for them, for kids living in poverty all over this country.

And some people think that we have to just accept this as a fundamental aspect of our economy or our democracy or our society. That somehow, the United States of America is such a failure as a community that we have to accept being 38th out of 41 industrialized countries in terms of childhood poverty. That we’re willing to permanently accept the idea that the poorest people in our society are our children. I think there’s something we can do about it. I know there’s something we can do about it.

I know there’s a lot of skepticism about the federal government’s ability to do anything well, Mr. President. I share that skepticism sometimes. We fought two wars in the Middle East that lasted for 20 years that cost about $5.6 trillion. That seems like a set of bad decisions. We have cut taxes on the floor of this body by $8 trillion since 2001, almost all of the benefit of that has gone to the wealthiest people in the country when we’ve got the worst income inequality that we’ve had since 1928.

It’s been staggering to watch people stay here at the end of a legislative year, at the end of a Congress, and burn the midnight oil to make sure that we can extend the tax cuts for the wealthiest people in the country and for the largest corporations in America. That’s how you know it’s 2:00 in the morning in the United States Senate. It’s when we have to extend tax cuts for the richest people in this country, during a time of devastating income inequality that’s perpetuated by the economic cycles that we continue to have.

But last year, Mr. President, as you know because you were a big part of this, we did something different. We adopted the expanded Child Tax Credit, we adopted the expanded Earned Income Tax Credit. Those bills were Bennet-Brown and Brown-Bennet, respectively, my friend, Sherrod Brown from the great state of Ohio.

And ahead of Tax Day, I wanted to come down to the floor just to give you a little report. Kind of a book report, or a status report, on what has happened. And, Mr. President, what I want to tell you is, it worked. It worked. It worked.

We discovered we didn’t have to live in a society that was 38th out of 41 industrialized countries. We discovered that we didn’t have to accept a world where the poorest people in our country were our children.

We benefited 61 million kids in the United States. 90% of the children in Connecticut, 90% of the children in Colorado, and 90% of the children all across this country directly benefited from a bill we passed here.

We cut childhood poverty nearly in half. We cut hunger by a quarter for families with kids during a pandemic, which feels like a worthy thing to have done. We did it without adding a single bureaucrat to the federal government. We did it without adding one more federal agency. We proved we could do it.

And then we didn’t extend it at the end of the year. And now, predictably, childhood poverty is shooting up in the United States of America. Hunger is shooting up in the United States of America.

I was on the phone, Mr. President, with the leaders of the food banks across Colorado who have done such an incredible job during this recession and during the last recession, making sure people are fed. I visited some of those food banks. I know that people are saying to me, that there are, you know, two-thirds of the people that are showing up were people that didn’t show up before we had this catastrophe of COVID.

But guess what’s getting longer now as a result of our failure to extend the Child Tax Credit? It’s the lines in these food banks. It’s the people coming to get food for their kids instead of being able to go to the grocery store with the dignity of the expanded Child Tax Credit.

There is a shred of good news here that I wanted to speak about for a second because this would be my chance to do it. And I just want to remind people that as families file their tax returns, they’ll receive the second half of their Child Tax Credit, which is worth up to $1,800 per child.

That’s still available. It’s not coming in a monthly form anymore — it’s not coming into your bank account anymore in that automatic way. But when you file your tax returns, you’ll receive it.

And the other thing, because of the EITC work that we did, the Earned Income Tax Credit work, workers without children will receive the expanded EITC, which we tripled last year — we tripled last year. We finally decided we’re not going to tax people into poverty anymore in this country, which is what we were doing before we expanded that.

So I wanted to remind families to claim their Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit as well. We expanded that last year to a maximum of $4,000 per child. And in my view, Mr. President, we have to continue to come down here and fight to make these credits permanent. And it’s my goal for us to end childhood poverty in this country. I think cutting it in half — that was an exciting thing.

It’s been a long time around here, decades, generations — generations since we’ve seen a reduction of poverty in this country like the reduction in childhood poverty we saw last year. Generations since we’ve seen a reduction in hunger like we saw last year. And the good news is we now know that it’s a fact that we can do it.

There are a lot of countries in the world that have an expanded Child Tax Credit or child benefit like the Child Tax Credit, and in all of those countries, fewer of their kids live in poverty. And their workforce participation rates are actually higher, which doesn’t surprise me at all based on the stories I heard from families about what they were spending the Child Tax Credit on, which was everything that had to do with their kids.

From buying back-to-school clothes to paying for a bicycle so a young man in Colorado Springs could stay at school late so he could have extracurriculars that he otherwise wouldn’t have had the ability to achieve. So that his mom could stay at work for a few more hours so she could provide for the family. There is literally no data in America or anywhere else that doesn’t support the idea that this is a pro-work policy, the Child Tax Credit.

We didn’t have any trouble, as I said earlier, extending the $8 trillion of tax cuts that we have cut for the wealthiest people in this country since 2001. For that money, we could have extended the Child Tax Credit for 50 years. We could have doubled it for 25 years, and we could have ended childhood poverty in the United States of America. I guarantee you that would have been a better investment than sending money to people that need it least in our economy.

I’d say to my own party that I’m really grateful that we passed this last year, but I’m deeply, deeply disappointed that we couldn’t come together and extend it. I am deeply, deeply disappointed that we haven’t fulfilled our promise to reverse the Trump tax cuts for the richest people in America. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s completely upside down. But that’s where we find ourselves.

I wish I could express how different it felt at the end of the year when it was kids, many of whom living in poverty, and their families who are getting, on average, $450 a month, when the lights were going out on them, and we just went home. We just went home. There was nobody burning the midnight oil here to make sure that the kids got the benefit of this.

And by the way, even if you don’t believe that living in a society where the poorest people are your kids and that it ought to be a purpose of a nation to lift kids who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in poverty, who through no fault of their own, find themselves living in a country where we have less economic mobility than almost any other industrialized country in the world and, therefore, don’t have the opportunity to rise that generations had before them and hopefully generations that’ll come after them, and that are attending a system of education in this country because of the lack of early childhood education in the United States; because of the lack of quality of K-12 education in this country; because of the incredible expense of higher education; who are attending a system that’s actually reinforcing the income inequality we have rather than liberating people from their circumstances.

The best predictor of the quality of your education in this country is your parents’ income. To the point of ruthlessness. To the point of ruthlessness.

I want to mention that Senator Romney, who’s a Republican from Utah, has a very similar bill to my bill to expand the Child Tax Credit. In fact, it’s basically the same bill. He’s a little more generous with kids under the age of six, and we’ve got a difference of view on pay-fors, but I think that’s a bridgeable difference.

And I have no doubt that in the long term, we will come to a bipartisan agreement in this chamber to make the enhanced Child Tax Credit permanent. To decide that, even if you don’t care about the kids — which you should — that the country can’t afford this level of childhood poverty. That our democracy won’t be sustained with this level of income inequality. That’s what I believe. That’s what I know.

Childhood poverty costs the United States of America a trillion dollars a year. That’s why it’s not surprising that Columbia University did a study and found that we get an 8x return. That the Child Tax Credit would pay back to the United States eight times what it cost. Again, what it costs is $100 billion a year. Childhood poverty costs us $1 trillion a year.

And instead of just accepting the idea that we’re going to be at the bottom of the cellar when it comes to kids living in poverty, what we said was “No, we’re going to cut it in half.” And let me assure you as a former school superintendent and — well, as a former school superintendent, the costs of mitigating for childhood poverty far exceed the cost of diminishing it.

And it’s an amazing thing to me, on top of everything else that we’re talking about today, that when families are in the grip of the kind of inflation they’re in the grip of, which is costing them somewhere between $270, $300 a month, depending on where they live, depending who they are, that it wouldn’t occur to us that the easiest thing to do would be just to reinstate what we were doing last year and allow people to have the benefit of $450 on average to raise their children, to pay for a little bit of extra child care, to pay for a little bit of extra transportation to fix a car that’s broken so they can stay on the job.

I know there are some colleagues here who think that this policy disincentivizes work. Mr. President, even before we passed this last year, every study that looked at this, that I was aware of, with the exception of one outlier that I think had terrible data, every single one said that this wasn’t going to negatively affect work. And guess what? Now we’ve had a six-month experiment in the United States of America, and every study, including one by the American Enterprise Institute, which was a doubter about this policy, and I think probably still is a doubter about this policy, found that it had no effect on people’s work habits.

The problem in America is not that people don’t work hard. That is not the problem that we have in this country. People are killing themselves. And it is true that wages are up about 5.6% since the Biden Administration went into office, which is awesome, it’s great. But we’ve had the effects of inflation, and we’re a long way from having an economy that when it grows, it grows for everybody, which, by the way, that is what we need to do. That’s what we have to achieve.

This democracy will not survive another 50 years of an economy that when it grows, it grows for the top 10%, and everyone else’s wages are flat. Or everyone else is effectively in a recession. There’s no evidence in world history that that level of income inequality, that lack of economic mobility, that over 100 years you can sustain a democracy. And we don’t have to do that. We don’t have to do that.

We could make it permanent, put it back in place, pay for it, by the way. I believe we should pay for it by raising taxes on the wealthiest people in the country like we said we were going to do by reversing the Trump tax cuts. The Trump giveaways, which were sold as a middle-class tax cut.

They were so smart because they gave people in the lower levels of the income ladder a little bit to say, “There’s your Trump tax cut,” so he could go out to the Mahoning Valley, go out to Youngstown, tell people, “You got your tax cut, you’re welcome.”

What he didn’t tell them was 52% of the Trump tax cut went to the top 5% of Americans. That after he left the people in the Mahoning Valley, Youngstown, an old steel town, and then he went on to Mar-a-Lago where people were having New Year’s Eve dinner or whatever it was they were having, and the first thing he said to them was, “You’re welcome.”

That was a lot closer to the truth. “You’re welcome. You are welcome that I cut your taxes at a time when income inequality is greater than any time since 1929. You’re welcome that I cut the corporate rate to 21% even though no one in corporate America was asking for a 21% tax cut. You’re welcome,” is what he said.

I said earlier, Mr. President, before you were here, that there are people in the country that are skeptical of the federal government doing anything well, and that I have my own skepticism for the reasons that I said earlier. And there are people in terms of the Child Tax Credit that said it would never work. You know? Six months before we did it, four months before we did it, I was getting stopped in the hallways by reporters every day, “Do you think they’re really going to be able to do this? Can the IRS and the Department of Treasury, can they really administer this?”

And the answer is yes, they did. They did a fantastic job. They didn’t get everybody at first. They didn’t get everybody at first, and we knew that would be a problem. We enlisted people all over the state of Colorado that work with folks, that work with working families and work with families that are living in poverty.

Because remember, this thing, this wasn’t just about kids living in poverty. 90% of America’s children benefited from this. That’s why some people have called this Social Security for kids. Some people have called it universal basic income for kids.

I think it’s a good thing, because I can tell you 90% of the kids in Colorado can use the help. Because 90% of the people in this country and in my state have not benefited from economic growth the same way the top 10% of Americans have for the last 50 years.

And as I mentioned, I just want to say again on this floor, because there are people out here saying, “People are going to drop out of the workforce,” It did not happen. It didn’t happen in other countries that have a tax benefit like this for kids, and it didn’t happen during the six months that we were here.

I understand, maybe we’d have a different debate. Maybe people would say, “Oh my god, Michael, all these people dropped out of the workforce. It didn’t work the way you said it would.” It did work the way that I said it would. It did work the way the data said that it would.

And moms and dads, very unsurprisingly to me, who were working hard to begin with probably just worked harder, because now they had the chance to pay for a little extra child care. Now they had the chance to fix a car or, as I said, let their kid go to extracurricular activities so they could stay at work. And that’s what all the studies have shown.

So I suppose one good thing has come out of this which is — or maybe it’s more than one good thing — it’s that we now know that America is no different than any other place in this respect. That when parents get a marginal, an incremental amount of money, that they don’t quit their jobs — they feed their kids.

But as a society, we’re able to say we cut childhood poverty in half. We cut hunger by 25%. What good is it, Mr. President, that now there are families that are lined up in soup kitchens today that weren’t there six months ago because they had the benefit of the Child Tax Credit?

As I said, parents spent this credit on all kinds of different things. I mentioned child care. I mentioned the bicycle for extracurriculars. But I’ll tell you the thing I heard from every single parent that I talked to — and that was a lot of them in Colorado over the last six months, over the last six months of last year — was the stress that it had relieved their families of.

That grinding stress of being in a recession. That grinding stress of being in the middle of a pandemic. The grinding stress of having your kids out of school or having interrupted schooling. The grinding stress of living in an economy where people are saying to you no matter how hard you work that somehow it’s your fault that you can’t get your family ahead. And that the decisions that we’ve made over many years in this chamber and the chamber across there, and that some of the largest institutions have made as well, unfortunately has created real headwinds for working people and for their families.

We’re in the middle here of considering the [U.S. Innovation and Competition Act], which I think, Mr. President, gives us a real opportunity to reassess what we’ve been doing for the last 40 or 50 years. Every single thing we said and we told the American people we were doing in their name, with respect to China and its presence in the World Trade Organization and what China would do as a result of that, none of that turned out to be true. When I say China, I don’t mean the Chinese people, I mean Beijing.

And we realize now that they weren’t going to follow the rules of the road. We realize now that they were engaged in state-sponsored capitalism that’s very hard to compete with. And that instead of just privileging the people in our society that want to make stuff as cheaply as possible in China, maybe we ought to be thinking about other things like our supply chain, protecting our supply chain, or our national security, or whether we’re creating good-paying jobs here in the United States so that when the economy grows, it grows for everybody.

We have an opportunity to do that now. And that’s what I want, Mr. President. That’s what I really want is an economy that when it grows, it grows for everybody. Because that’s the American Dream, that’s the story we’ve told ourselves about who we are as a people, and that’s the way to strengthen our democracy. That’s what I really want.

In the meantime, what I would like us to do, since we now know how to do it finally, is lift half the kids in this country out of poverty so they have a chance to pursue the American Dream themselves.

I used to say that this chamber treated America’s children like they were someone else’s children because of the education system that we’ve provided for them. And when we did the Child Tax Credit, I came out here and I said, “I can finally come to this floor and say we are now treating America’s children like they are America’s children.”

But for the moment, that’s no longer true. And for the moment we’re treating them like they’re someone else’s children, and we will rue the day that we did that. We will rue the day that we did that.

This is a pro-work policy. It’s a pro-family policy. It is a pro-democracy policy. And we now know it worked, and it worked well. And we’ve got to fight to make it permanent. And that’s what I’ll do.

Mr. President, with that, I’ll yield the floor.

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U.S. Senator for Colorado

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Senator Michael Bennet

Senator Michael Bennet

U.S. Senator for Colorado

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