When the federal government started sending monthly checks to families with children earlier this year, Democrats predicted that the program would be a big hit. They were counting on public support to extend the payments beyond this year, and to pass a broader expansion of federal aid for families.
So much for that.
Enthusiasm has fallen short of the party’s expectations, and Democrats are facing a gut-check moment. The Biden administration is struggling to win the unified support of Senate Democrats for an expansion of social welfare programs, and public opinion polls suggest that the misgivings of centrist Democrats, notably those of Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, are shared by many Americans (emphasis added).
Those seeking to expand the government’s role in American life ... need to engage the ideological arguments of their opponents. Many Americans regard government benefits as a kind of charity that ought to be reserved for those whom they consider both needy and deserving — generally speaking, the working poor. This is what Mr. Manchin meant when he said recently: “I don’t believe that we should turn our society into an entitlement society. I think we should still be a compassionate, rewarding society.”
Some proponents of President Biden’s plans are inclined to grant Mr. Manchin’s point and then argue for programs like the child benefit on the grounds that it is a worthy kind of charity.
The better argument is that Mr. Manchin is wrong. Paying taxes is not a form of noblesse oblige, and the social safety net is not a philanthropic project. This nation’s prosperity is a collective achievement, and Americans are entitled to share in that prosperity. Americans also need government support to contribute to that prosperity. A basic goal of providing more help to parents with dependent children is to allow those parents to engage in paid work and to allow their children to become flourishing members of society (emphasis added).