When I was growing up, I longed for my mother to get a job outside the home. Anything to stop her from analyzing my every movement and misstep, of which there were plenty. Besides, wasn't she bored, I wondered?
Eventually she did get a real job - as I viewed it at the time. I was beyond the age when child care was needed, so my mother did not have to fret over the overwhelming costs of paying a nanny or child care center to look after me.
Today such choices are a luxury few women enjoy. Economic realities force many mothers to return to work only weeks after the birth of a child. Child-care costs cut a huge hole in family budgets. Families that arrange for a parent to stay home often make big sacrifices and have a harder time saving for college and retirement.
Enter the Clinton administration, which wants the federal government to solve the problem by increasing child care subsidies for working families. A Democrat-led bill in the House would spend an additional $24.5 billion over five years expanding child care programs and tax credits. Congressional Budget Office figures show that this year the government will spend $51.7 billion on a network of programs and tax credits that assists working families.
"I think we're going to succeed this year in significantly increasing federal law in child care and early learning," says Sen. Chris Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, speaking at a recent forum on child care at the Brookings Institution.
Mr. Dodd enthusiastically recounts his recent success at getting a bipartisan agreement on a child-care spending bill (on the committee level) in the range of about $10 billion spread out over a decade.
"There is a sense of urgency from Republican governors and state legislatures" to address the growing child-care needs of low-income families trying to exit the welfare system, Mr. Dodd says. "It is no longer a partisan issue."
Last year, more than 50 bills proposing a variety of increases in child care spending failed to win any significant support among Republicans, who generally oppose expanded entitlement programs. But Mr. Dodd says the political climate has changed - in part because of new research showing a link between early brain development and future performance in school. Projected federal budget surpluses also make it easier to argue for increased spending on children, an issue few politicians want to publicly oppose.
Mr. Dodd says he has appeased opponents of increased child care spending by tossing a bone to stay-at-home mothers. "There is nothing wrong with providing some help for these families," he says, somewhat defensively, knowing that other speakers at the forum do not favor such help for stay-at-home parents.
One area of common ground is the mounting concern over families who no longer receive welfare and find themselves in low-paying jobs that disqualify them from public assistance. …