Ivanka Trump takes on taxes
Ivanka Trump wants a win.
More than six months since she formally joined President Donald Trump’s administration in March, the first daughter has yet to make her mark on any of the administration’s major policy decisions. Now she’s staking her reputation in Washington on making sure her father’s tax reform plan includes an expanded child tax credit – a version of a pet issue she championed during the campaign.
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So far, Ivanka Trump’s approach has been markedly different than her past efforts in pushing policy, evidence of the way Washington has schooled her in her seven months in the West Wing, according to interviews with more than a dozen people, including White House officials, congressional aides, and conservative leaders and policy experts.
She’s embarked on an extensive outreach program to build support among influential Republicans – and attracted backing from Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of Utah by adopting parts of their proposal they introduced in 2015.
In recent weeks, the first daughter has done private calls and meetings with GOP lawmakers from both the Senate and House, right-leaning tax experts, business groups, think tanks, and social conservatives to build support: everyone from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the Heritage Foundation, Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, and Democratic Rep. John Larson, according to a White House official.
Trump also plans to host two dinners with lawmakers at her home in Kalorama to promote the issue, with one this Wednesday with House members and another on Oct. 16 that includes Rubio and Lee.
“I don’t think anyone would say that she came up with this idea herself,” said one conservative lobbyist. “There is increasing consensus among conservatives in Washington on this issue and significant support among strong voices like Sens. Rubio and Lee. She is viewed as a prominent spokesperson.”
A White House official said that Trump has approached all of the issues in her portfolio such as parental leave and STEM education this way – by listening and building coalitions.
“A significant expansion of the Child Tax Credit will help parents have more money at a time in their lives when they need it the most and give them the flexibility to make the best choices regarding their families’ care,” Trump said in a statement. “We’ve been deeply committed to helping parents afford the costs of raising and caring for their children since the early days of the administration and will continue to advocate for relief for American families in the coming weeks.”
Among some right-leaning policy experts, there’s a sense that Trump opted to champion a version of the child care tax credit that can pass and that adheres to very establishment Republican orthodoxy, despite her father’s disruptive and non-traditional approach to GOP politics.
“Inevitably, there would have been a child tax credit expansion in any Republican tax plan. This is very conventional in a sense, with tax cuts on the high end and expanding the child credit. This could have been what Romney did,” said Michael Strain, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute who attended a breakfast where Trump spoke about the issue.
To detractors, Trump’s involvement is another instance of her talking up pro-family and pro-women policies as part of her brand while making little meaningful progress on these questions from her perch inside the White House.
Recently, the Center for American Progress issued a report that gave Trump failing marks for her advocacy of women and family issues, some of which the White House considers part of her portfolio. Just last week, the administration rolled back an Obama-era rule, giving employers much greater leeway on religious or moral grounds to opt out of a mandate that the Affordable Care Act cover birth control.
“If you step back and look at the administration from equal pay to even just analyzing paid leave, this administration is one of the most regressive on women’s issues,” said Neera Tanden, president of the left-leaning think tank. “If she is the leading voice, then she is a voice of policies that hurt women.”
President Bill Clinton first enacted the child tax credit in 1997 to reduce the tax liability of families. President George W. Bush expanded it in 2001 to give families a non-refundable $1,000 a year tax credit for each child under age 17, with the generosity of the credit phasing out for married couples who earn more than $110,000 and single parents who earn more than $75,000.
Originally, Trump had pitched a new tax deduction for families that rely on formal child care arrangements such as day care, an idea pilloried by both the left and the right. Liberals hated it because they said it mostly benefited wealthy families, while the right despised it because conservatives said it gave preference to families that used paid day care and penalized stay-at-home parents, or anyone who relied child care outside of official channels.
Trump tweaked the idea, with the help of White House staffers – including Shahira Knight of the National Economic Council and Kara McKee of the Domestic Policy Council – so that it simply expands the existing child tax credit to increase the amount of credit as well as the eligibility. That’s a much easier lift politically than creating an entirely new credit.
Two top staffers from the legislative affairs office with deep ties to conservatives – Marc Short and Paul Teller – have helped her with the political outreach to conservatives throughout Washington, many of whom championed child tax credits dating back to the Republicans 1994 “Contract with America.”