Three champions of Build Back Better make pitch for federal economic development bill

Kansas GOP lawmakers equate Biden’s spending blueprint to reckless socialism

By: - December 6, 2021 9:05 am

Suzanne Wikle, Kelly Davydov and David Jordan offer hearty endorsements of President Joe Biden’s economic renewal bill known as Build Back Better. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Narrow partisan margins in Congress make it extraordinarily difficult to make a deal on the economic program touted by President Joe Biden, but the sweeping package has drawn three Kansans to the edge of their seats in anticipation key provisions become law.

David Jordan, president and chief executive officer at the Hutchinson-based philanthropy United Methodist Health Ministry Fund, said on the Kansas Reflector podcast the bill was important because it took on the nation’s most pressing issues, including fundamentals such as health care and child care. It would make expansion of eligibility for Medicaid in Kansas a realistic option even with a reluctant Kansas Legislature, he said.

“The Build Back Better plan will take enormous steps to improve the quality of life of all Kansans,” Jordan said.

Suzanne Wikle, senior policy analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Law and Social Policy, said the legislation was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to tackle persistent poverty as well as racial and gender inequality.

“It will for the first time make high quality child care and pre-K affordable for nearly every family. It slashes poverty among children and young adults by extending tax credits, creates a universal paid leave program and takes enormous steps to improve affordability of access to health insurance,” she said.

Creation of substantial federal subsidies for early childhood education and child care would fundamentally change household economics for Kansas families, said Kelly Davydov, executive director of Child Care Aware of Kansas.

“This really represents an unprecedented investment in expanding access for families to high quality care,” she said. “It also has several provisions to support child care providers directly in ways that we haven’t seen before. So when we think about that, in terms of both families and providers and what this means for communities, it’s really an important investment that we have never seen in the early care and education space before.”

 

But consider this

Their optimism about what Build Back Better could do for the nation must be tempered by political realities of the bill narrowly passed by the U.S. House stalling in the U.S. Senate. Obstacles to passage were anticipated because the legislation waded into health care, immigration, education, climate change, child care, prescription drug prices, housing, nutrition and tax equity.

If considered separately, these topics would stir controversy in Washington, D.C. With Democrats clinging to their leadership position advantages and Republicans optimistic about turning the tables in the 2022 elections, the bill has been subjected to a high level tug-of-war. Among most Democrats, the bill looks like an overdue investment in America’s future. Republicans view it as a budgetary and policy albatross.

There’s not even consensus on how much Build Back Better would cost the federal government. The Congressional Budget Office estimated the House version contained $2.4 trillion in spending and tax cuts through 2031 along with $2.3 trillion in new taxes and other offsets. Depending on final language of the bill, it could pay for itself or the overall cost could double.

The five Republicans in the Kansas congressional delegation object to the legislation, leaving the lone Democrat in the group to defend its passage.

U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, who represents Topeka and eastern Kansas, said the president’s Build Back Better agenda would do nothing more than “exacerbate the challenges facing American families.”

“The radical policies inside this legislation will make it harder for job creators to stay afloat and will force Kansans to dig even deeper in their pockets to cover the cost of soaring prices,” the Republican congressman said. “This bill also grants mass amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, allows taxpayer-funded abortions and paves the way for a government takeover of our health care system.”

U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, said the “out-of-control socialist spending spree” endorsed by Biden triggered higher inflation rate.

“Biden-flation is here to stay so long as those on the left continue to throw gasoline on the fire with their reckless taxing, reckless borrowing and reckless spending agenda,” Marshall said.

 

Taxes and Medicaid

Wikle, of the Center for Law and Social Policy, said proposed tax increases for corporations and wealthy individuals wouldn’t come close to the average Kansan.

“If you make less than $400,000 a year you have nothing to worry about when it comes to your tax bill,” she said. “We can certainly afford this if everybody pays their fair share.”

She said the bill would continue monthly payments of $300 to $350 from the IRS based on what a family would receive annually in federal child tax credits. In July, as part of the federal pandemic response, monthly payments began based on the number and age of children. The cash can be used for food, school supplies, housing costs, debt reduction and other expenditures important to recipient families.

“Over half a million Kansas children benefitted from these payments. They went to over 300,000 families. Build Back Better extends these monthly payments for a year and very importantly makes them available to the very lowest earners in the state,” Wikle said.

Jordan, a proponent of Kansas expanding eligibility for Medicaid, said the Build Back Better legislation contained incentives good through 2025 to encourage Kansas legislators and their peers in 11 other holdout states to embrace quality, affordable health coverage for lower-income families. Kansas has about 260,000 uninsured residents and Medicaid expansion would help more than 100,000 Kansans exit the health-care gap because they earned too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to afford private insurance, he said.

“It also benefits our hospitals,” said Jordan, who estimated the bill would cover half of uncompensated care provided by Kansas hospitals. “Seventy percent to 72% of our hospitals are financially vulnerable.”

 

Universal preschool

The Build Back Better framework outlined by the Biden administration would create a $400 billion early-childhood initiative. The strategy would fund universal prekindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds in addition to initiatives to bolster opportunities for delivery of child care.

The pre-K would be voluntary and federal financial support would flow to traditional preschools, child-care businesses and family providers of child care, said Davydov, of Child Care Aware of Kansas.

“Very importantly, this supports family choice,” she said. “This allows families to choose the environment that best meets their local needs, their unique family needs, and in ways that also support access to high quality education so that no matter where a child is, they’re going to be able to access really, really high quality early care and education.”

Wikle said the federal reform bill would expand investment in children during the 0-5 years critical for brain development.

“We know that if kids are in high quality settings, that they’re going to thrive later on in life. It’s just that clear. And their families are going to be able to participate in the workforce,” she said.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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