Opinion | We disagree on abortion. Here’s a pro-family agenda both parties can support.

Opinion | We disagree on abortion. Here’s a pro-family agenda both parties can support.

We hail from opposite ends of the political spectrum. One of us is a pro-choice liberal who believes pregnancy and parenting are so momentous that no one should be forced to take them on. The other is a pro-life conservative who believes unborn life is sacred and that the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was a godsend.

But we agree that the high court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization guarantees more babies will be born, many of them in challenging circumstances. And we stand together in our belief that Republicans and Democrats must come together to better support these children and their families.

This is especially important at a time when inflation has driven up the cost of everything from diapers to baby formula. Child-care costs are rising at nearly twice the rate of inflation, and thousands of child-care facilities across the country permanently shuttered in the coronavirus pandemic, making it harder and more expensive for parents to get by.

Easing these burdens should be a moral imperative across the political spectrum. For pro-choice Americans, it’s the least the country can do for women who are seeing choices stripped from them and their children. For pro-life Americans, it represents a chance to build what Pope John Paul II called a “culture of life” in which the dignity of every person is upheld and supported at all stages.

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For both parties, a comprehensive family agenda should be a political imperative as well. As a candidate, President Biden promised to put his “whole soul” into bringing both parties together to do important things for the American people. By restoring divided government in 2022, midterm voters sent a clear message that they want both sides to fulfill that promise.

Family policy is a place to start, especially because Democrats and Republicans have already cooperated on a wide range of bills to tackle many of these problems. Despite the bipartisan goodwill, little family legislation has been enacted. It’s time for Biden and congressional leaders to make this a priority.

To nudge them along, we compiled a set of proposals to improve family life in the United States — from conception to college that are abortion-neutral and fiscally realistic. Compromise was inevitable: Alyssa set aside major investments in child care; Marc couldn’t persuade Alyssa to sign on for school vouchers. But the most heartening part of the exercise was how much we — and our congressional counterparts — agree on.

Make pregnancy less dangerous

America’s failure to support young families is most bluntly expressed in its disgraceful infant and maternal mortality rates, which even before the pandemic reached rates unseen since the early 1970s and disproportionately affect Black women.

To bring those numbers down, Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) have proposed an ambitious program to review how maternity care is taught to doctors and nurses. It also seeks to expand access to doula care, telehealth maternal care and to devices such as glucose monitors for women with gestational diabetes who are on Medicaid. This is a great place to start.

The federal government can also use its convening and data-gathering power to learn more about how to keep moms and babies healthy. Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), for example, introduced a bill to establish a national Maternal Health Research Network within the National Institutes of Health. Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) introduced the Data to Save Moms Act, pulling together more information on maternal deaths up to a year after birth.

Given the firepower to gather these statistics and analyze them, the federal government might facilitate greater understanding of tragic conditions such as postpartum psychosis.

What happens outside the doctor’s office matters, too. To get care to moms who need it, the Senate should pass and Biden should sign the bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by Reps. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) and Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) that the House passed with a huge 390-26 margin last year, to expand the federal home health aide visiting program for poor pregnant women and new moms and babies.

Lawmakers should also back the proposal from former Nebraska representative Jeff Fortenberry (R) to set up a federal-state collaborative aimed at identifying ways to help those pregnant get housing, stay in the workforce or school, and reduce Medicaid costs. Same goes for the bill introduced by Rep. Carol Miller (R-W.Va.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to set up programs at the Department of Health and Human Services to determine which mentoring and support programs for new mothers produce the best results.

In terms of protecting expectant mothers, the bipartisan Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which passed as part of last year’s appropriations bill and requires employers to accommodate workers’ needs while they’re pregnant or after birth, is an excellent start. To protect the rights of pregnant college and university students and their babies, Congress should also pass Rubio’s bill requiring colleges to let students know about on-campus resources should they decide to have children while enrolled in school and to document and address complaints that schools discriminate against pregnant students in violation of Title IX.

Help parents afford babies

Everyone knows that once babies arrive, they are expensive. Here are several ways lawmakers could ease that burden.

First, given the benefits that accrue to kids whose parents are married, it’s obvious marriage penalties should be eliminated from federal welfare programs. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has proposed legislation to do so.

We also support increasing the maximum child tax credit. Start with Sen. Mitt Romney’s (R-Utah) bill, which would raise the credit from $2,000 per child to $4,200 for children younger than 6 and $3,000 for those aged 6 to 17. He has also introduced legislation to allow women to start claiming the child tax credit during pregnancy. The credit should be fully refundable for those who don’t owe taxes.

To enable bipartisan support, Romney’s legislation should be amended to state that nothing in it intends to affirm or deny the humanity of the unborn fetus.

Then there’s the matter of extending Medicaid coverage for mothers and babies until a year after birth. Many Republicans and Democrats have recognized the wisdom of this idea at the state level. For example, in signing a law to do so this spring, Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves described the step as part of a “new pro-life agenda.”

It’s time to adopt it federally, too. Both parties should also embrace Rubio’s proposal to expand the eligibility of new mothers for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) from one to two years.

To further reduce costs of parenting, the government could exempt diapers from sales taxes, as House Democrats and Indiana Republicans have sought to do. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has gone so far as to make all baby items — cribs, strollers, clothing, diapers, wipes — tax-free. Other states should follow suit.

Those savings wouldn’t be enormous, but parents would certainly welcome them in a time of high inflation. Indiana’s law saves parents $66 per child per year on diapers. Florida’s law shaves $17 off the price of a modest Ikea crib. Congress could even consider making these items tax deductible and fully refundable.

Finally, in the post-Dobbs world, we will need more loving families to open their homes to adoptive and foster children. One way to do so is by passing legislation expanding the adoption tax credit and making it fully refundable, a change to tax law that’s been a bipartisan priority for a decade, and that was most recently reintroduced by Davis alongside Reps. Blake D. Moore (R-Utah), Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Randy Feenstra (R-Iowa), Don Bacon (R-Neb.) and Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Calif.). We should also increase federal adoption assistance funding, and funding for states to recruit, retain and support foster families.

And we should make sure Americans know what resources and protections are available to them. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) and Rubio have advocated a federal database of pregnancy-related resources. That’s a good idea (even if a URL other than their proposed “Life.gov” would make more sense both politically and for boosting search results). The site could boost awareness of the new Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and Pump Act, which expand protections for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Fortenberry’s Care for Her Act would be a boost to pregnant students, helping them with family-friendly campus housing, on-campus child care and space for breastfeeding in classroom buildings.

Support child-care needs

One of the toughest policy questions to crack has been that of paid parental leave. Neither Democratic proposals for a national paid leave scheme nor Republican suggestions that parents fund their leave through Social Security savings are viable in this closely divided Congress. As an alternative to this stalemate, we’d like to see lawmakers enact a universal tax-exempt parental leave and family savings account to cover parenting-related expenses, including parental leave and children’s sick days off from school.

Those accounts should be portable from job to job. As with 401(k) accounts, companies could deduct their matching contributions to employees’ family savings accounts from their corporate taxes. Those savings could grow until parents need them, at which point they can be spent tax-free. Any unused funds could be rolled into other savings vehicles such as 529 educational accounts. In 2019, then-Reps. John Katko (R-N.Y.) and Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.) introduced the Working Parents Flexibility Act, which would have allowed individuals to put away up to $6,750 per year in such accounts, but the bill was never enacted.

Such a program could break the ideological deadlock over paid leave. It would also give parents maximal flexibility while providing government and businesses a way to invest in family life together.

And while we’re considering family leave, Sen. Tom Cotton’s (R-Ark.) proposal to amend the Family and Medical Leave Act to give both moms and dads time to recover from and grieve a stillbirth or miscarriage would be a sensitive gesture.

Then there’s the cost and availability of child care. One no-brainer: Raise the amount parents can save pretax in dependent care flexible spending accounts from $5,000 to $10,500, as Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Kim Schrier (D-Wash.) have proposed. The current limit hasn’t been updated since 1986 and bears no relation to the actual cost of child care.

Meanwhile, let parents who hire caregivers write off the cost of workers’ compensation insurance and fees for payroll services such as Care.com. Making it easier to pay these workers fairly — and legally — would be good for everyone.

Republicans will be averse to major universal child-care programs, but they should consider former House member Louie Gohmert’s (R-Tex.) bill to help the most vulnerable young mothers. He proposed creating a block-grant program to pay for child care for teen parents so they can stay in school or work. Congress should also add flexibility to existing federal block-grant programs for child care so that states can find innovative ways to support new parents. For example, Indiana’s Hoosier Families First Fund provides $45 million to bolster agencies that support healthy pregnancies, child care, foster and adoptive care, and other programs.

All this expanded child care will require more child-care workers. Immigration reforms could help. Expanding the H2B visa category, or even creating a new visa category altogether, could help bring day-care workers into the country. And raising the limit on the number of au pairs who are allowed to work in the United States could expand access to a new, lower-cost option for families willing to open their homes and facilitate cultural exchange. (Full disclosure: Alyssa’s father-in-law chairs the American Institute for Foreign Study, which operates Au Pair in America.)

Once children are a little older it’s worth experimenting with care models that work for their families. Sens. Todd C. Young (R-Ind.) and Hassan had a bright idea to add an innovation fund to the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act. That effort would explore the effects of offering child care at nontraditional hours, which would be a huge boon to parents who are shift workers in fields such as law enforcement. Wenstrup’s proposal to expand tax credits for businesses to build on-site day-care centers and study the effects of expanding employer-operated child care could spur other creative solutions.

Changing the school day and year could also make life easier for working parents — and help address pandemic learning loss, too. Rep. Joseph Morelle (D-N.Y.) proposed piloting 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. school days in 500 elementary schools, providing children with extra instructional time and freeing parents from the struggle to find aftercare.

Similar experiments could examine the effect of year-round school, expanding on the pilot program in Florida proposed by a Democrat and signed into law by DeSantis or the universal camp-like summer programs for students in Birmingham, Ala.

Our list is not comprehensive, and there are many ideas that we didn’t include because they wouldn’t stand a chance of passing bipartisan muster.

In any case, nothing in these proposals requires either side to concede its position on the underlying question of abortion. This shows that our fundamental disagreement on one of the most vexing moral questions of our time should not prevent people of goodwill from working together on something most Americans agree on: supporting families.

If two Post columnists who agree on little else can do it, then Democrats and Republicans in Congress can as well. Because whether we are pro-life or pro-choice, we can — and must — be pro-family.

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Hood Over Hollywood Mature (the beauty standards from the maturing woman-next-door).

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