by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Debates about a universal child allowance aren’t usually the occasion for a war of words among politicians, commentators, and opinion writers. Yet that’s precisely what happened when Senator Mitt Romney proposed legislation in early February that would involve the U.S. government sending all but America’s wealthiest families $250 a month per child between six and 17 years old, and $350 a month for each child under the age of five.
Many social conservatives applauded the idea. Finally, they said, a senior Republican was taking seriously their concerns about Middle America’s economic struggles and doing something about it.
Fiscal conservatives tended to be less enthusiastic. While noting that Romney’s proposal would be partly funded by eliminating the child tax credit and reforming the earned-income tax credit, they maintained we need less government spending on entitlements, not more.
Things escalated from there. But the significance of the back-and-forth between these social and fiscal conservatives goes beyond the specifics of Romney’s proposition. Fiscal and social conservatives have always had their disagreements, even when they have formed alliances of convenience. Even those who consider themselves both fiscally and socially conservative recognize an occasional tension between the two. The eruption of words, however, over a proposal that would result in a net expenditure increase of $66 billion a year (which, by federal spending standards, is small change) reflects something else: a widening chasm on the right that, I suspect, is going to deepen.
In part, this is because both social and fiscal conservatives see a crisis enveloping America. They disagree, however, about what the crisis is. Again, the two tendencies can overlap, even within the same person. But real fissures have begun to emerge over what crisis is most important.