Why is Chuck Schumer refusing a vote on the popular child tax credit?

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Last week, reports emerged that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is under pressure from vulnerable Democratic senators to hold a vote on one of the most popular major bipartisan bills of the 118th Congress — a $78 billion package to expand the child tax credit and restore the deductibility of some business investments.

Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), all facing tough reelection fights, have asked Schumer to schedule a floor vote on the legislation, which passed the House in January 357 to 70. Other senators have also joined in on this effort.

Yet for months the bill has languished in the upper chamber. The prospect of bipartisan passage gets tougher as Election Day grows nearer. Schumer’s refusal to call a vote on the child tax credit is perhaps the biggest mystery of legislative politics in 2024.

The Senate leader owes the public — and his own Democratic senators — an explanation. A vote on the legislation to expand the child tax credit would be a win-win proposition for Schumer.

If successful, the legislation is projected to lift about half a million children above the poverty line while making at least 5 million less poor. If a Senate vote were to fail, Democrats could lay the blame on Republicans for blocking a massively popular and well-proven policy tool. Around 75 percent of voters consistently express support for the child tax credit. 

The tax credit’s expansion from the American Rescue Plan reduced child poverty in the U.S. by nearly half, to a record low level, from 2020 to 2021 — a major achievement. But when this measure expired at the end of 2021, these momentous gains were lost.  

According to those who have talked to Schumer about this, his reason for not putting this vote on the Senate calendar is that it would lose.  Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) has been seeking to block the bill. 

But this is not at all clear; and what’s more, it won’t be clear until Schumer at least announces that there will be a vote. We know that there are 47 or 48 Democrats and three independents who will vote for the bill. Because of the Senate filibuster, 10 more votes would be needed in order to get to the vote on the bill. The number of Republican senators who have said publicly or privately in recent weeks that they would vote with the Democrats (plus independents) to break the filibuster has been about eight.

Can Democrats get a couple more Republican votes to get the bill to the floor? We won’t know until Schumer announces a vote. Most Republicans would not want to tell even their friends that they will vote to break the filibuster, when they don’t even know if Schumer is going to allow a vote on the bill. Why risk punishment from Republican leadership for something that is not even real yet?

Following the bipartisan passage of the legislation in the House in January, an unusually wide coalition of groups — including social conservative activists and prominent corporate trade associations — has emerged to push for Senate passage. With high-profile CEOs, deep-pocketed Republican donors, and leaders of anti-abortion and anti-tax movements actively lobbying for the bill, there’s a credible case that the package can muster enough GOP votes for cloture. 

But for the above reasons, advocates need definitive proof that a vote is happening in order to get the necessary Republicans — dozens of whom really want this bill, mainly for the tax cuts — on board.

Both Democratic and Republican incumbents could run on the accomplishment of having expanded the child tax credit. Republicans in particular want to claim victory on the business tax cuts in the deal. But as Axios reported, Schumer may want to pay attention to the requests from Democratic senators facing the toughest races. If Brown, Tester or Rosen lose in November, a case could be made that Schumer committed a serious strategic error in denying their request — a request that is backed by so many other Democratic senators. 

There’s still time to change course. A win on the child tax credit could be a major victory against poverty — and a step toward saving Schumer’s majority. 

Justin Talbot Zorn is a senior adviser at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a Truman National Security Fellow and served as legislative director for three members of Congress. Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He is the author of “Failed: What the ‘Experts’ Got Wrong About the Global Economy” (Oxford University Press).

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