The run-up to the passage of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) last week showcased the leftward drift of American social policy among conservatives.
Democrats’ attempt to raise the minimum wage via the ARP was nixed by the Senate parliamentarian, but not before Sens. Tom Cotton and Mitt Romney and Sen. Josh Hawley proposed two Republican-friendly alternative minimum-wage hikes. And as the Democrats’ yearslong efforts to enact a child allowance gained traction as an ARP provision, it was met with Romney’s own child allowance proposal, “The Family Security Act,” which generated considerable second-order debates among conservatives, some of whom argued the allowance should enable parents to stay home from work.
These policy debates echo G.K. Chesterton’s century-old observation, “The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected.” A consensus has emerged among Washington policymakers, first on the left and now on the right, that working-class—and perhaps even middle-class—Americans need more financial buffers against the headwinds of globalization and large-scale capitalism. In what political scientists call “policy framing,” policymakers on the right and left have cast the boundaries of debate within the twin premises that working families are beset with stagnating incomes and the federal government should subsidize the difference between those incomes and whatever a living wage requires.
Within this policy frame, conservatives have embraced two typically progressive goals: the prioritization of security over opportunity (hence the name of Romney’s child allowance) and the elimination of mediating structures.