Bush, Clinton Both Flirted With 'Baby Bonds' Concept
While Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton travels the country accusing President Bush of running a disastrous administration, it turns out the two have at least one thing in common. They both flirted with the idea of a taxpayer-subsidized investment account for new babies, only to abandon it in the face of conservative backlash.
The New York senator
Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani pounced on the idea as an example of profligate liberal ways. In speeches and debates,
Now it turns out that Bush considered something very similar -- and it got quashed for very similar reasons. Michael Gerson, the president's former senior adviser and chief speechwriter, writes in his new book, "Heroic Conservatism," that he advocated a program called KidSave that would set up tax-free savings accounts for every poor child at birth subsidized with "a few thousand dollars." Over time, he writes, it could "begin to equalize the wealth gap in America." In his book, Gerson did not define what he meant by "poor" or "a few." But to pick a number, a $3,000 account would grow at 5 percent annual interest to $7,200 by age 18. According to the Children's Defense Fund, about 900,000 children are born into poverty each year, so such a $3,000 subsidy would cost $2.7 billion annually.
As Gerson tried to have the idea included in the president's State of the Union address in 2004, he ran into the same sort of reaction internally that Clinton did on the campaign trail. "The KidSave proposal," he writes, "made its way into several drafts of the speech -- until it was killed by the concerted effort of our economic team, who objected to 'free money' for the poor."
Gerson presented this story as part of a pattern of battles within the Bush administration over what he considered "compassionate conservative" policy ideas. Gerson repeatedly fought for money for AIDS patients, malaria victims, prisoners transitioning back into society, Gulf Coast residents recovering from Hurricane Katrina, death-row defense attorneys and other marginalized groups, often running into the same sort of resistance that killed KidSave. His book, he says, is intended to argue that conservatives need to embrace the struggle to help the disadvantaged in society if they have any hope of competing in electoral politics.
The idea of money for babies at birth is not unique to the U.S. political debate. Britain started a similar program in 2005 and Spain is considering it. Australia, Japan and Singapore all offer cash for babies.Russian President Vladimir Putin last yearoffered women thousands of dollars to have babies. Of course, Russia and some of those others are doing so to combat stagnant or falling populations. The stillborn Bush and Clinton plans were aimed at helping children escape poverty or get a jumpstart on life.
Nor are they the first to propose such an idea in this country. As the Los Angeles Times noted recently, then-Sens. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) unveiled a plan in 2004 to give every baby a $500 endowment that they could not use until age 18, when it and any investment growth could be spent for college, home purchase or business startup.
Still, whether the idea has merit or not, the Bush and Clinton retreats probably mean it won't go anywhere anytime soon.
-- Peter Baker
November 1, 2007; 9:00 AM ET
Categories: A_Blog , Morning Cheat Sheet
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