Progressives made the perfect the enemy of the good.  Now poor children are going to bed hungry.

It’s hard to know why things shake out in Congress the way they do.  Why hasn’t there been agreement on a climate bill?  Why hasn’t a compromise been reached on a child tax credit?  Why not better preparation for the next pandemic, or even for the next wave of this pandemic?  From the outside it’s hard to say, but I am inclined to think that Schumer and Biden both bear considerable responsibility for these failures.

A deeply disturbing article by Rachel Cohen in Vox about the failure to enact a child tax credit suggests that progressives – both in Congress and in advocacy organizations – bear considerable responsibility for the failure as well. 

Among CTC advocates both outside and within Congress, there’s a quiet, almost paralyzing crisis playing out these days behind the scenes: Should they keep pushing for an expansion that meets all their top criteria, and fight for every child,or do they make clear what they’d be willing to compromise on and hopefully get something through reconciliation or on a bipartisan basis?

In the fall and winter, advocates took a hard line — there was no appetite to negotiate over a less ambitious CTC.  One leader involved in a large coalition of groups mobilizing for the CTC, who requested anonymity for fear of getting his organization booted from the coalition, told Vox their fellow activists erred, making “a giant miscalculation that we had nothing to lose if we held out for more.”

“Because we couldn’t help everybody at once, we’re helping nobody,” they added.

As Cohen notes, the main sticking point in negotiations was work requirements.  It might have been possible to satisfy Manchin with a very modest work requirement.  Alternatively, advocates could have pushed for a bipartisan bill that assisted non-working parents of pre-kindergarten children but tied the credit to work for the parents of older children, as Samuel Hammond proposed.  Or advocates could have swallowed hard and supported a bill with a full-blown work requirement and strict means testing to get something through the legislative sausage grinder.  But advocates just couldn’t bring themselves to push for a compromise; they claim it’s not their job:

Most organizations say it’s simply not their job to advocate a compromise — that they should push for the most inclusive policy for as long as they can. And to an extent, it certainly makes sense why predominantly progressive groups would not be willing to entertain, let alone craft, a settlement deal.

Bullshit.  I favor a means tested credit without a work requirement, structured to make eligibility easy to determine and to avoid clawbacks.  The Democratic bill that was in effect last year had limited means testing and was poorly designed.  But I was thrilled when it passed and I would have voted for it if I had been in Congress.  And I would have supported a bill with work requirements if that is what it took to get to “yes”. 

The incentives here are terrible all the way around:

For now, the legislative clock is ticking, and the easiest thing for Biden and other Democrats to do might be to insist their hands are tied because of Manchin.  That’s certainly the approach Biden took last Friday when, speaking at a press conference in Auburn, Washington, he said of the child tax credit — “We lack one Democrat and 50 Republicans from keeping it from passing this time around.”

This sigh-and-blame-Manchin strategy is unlikely to face blowback from the CTC advocacy community, but families struggling with rising costs may find it aggravating to see Biden and Democrats with congressional majorities effectively giving up.

You can blame Manchin and of course Republicans, but they know what they want and blaming them solves nothing.  It’s progressive advocates basking insisting on moral perfection and politicians unwilling to provide meaningful leadership who made the perfect the enemy of the good.