Highlighting the federal government’s complicated process of boosting the poor

Kevin Williamson of National Review Online turns his attention to the federal government’s bizarre process of providing money for the poor.

The bill from Senator Romney (R., Utah, lately) and Senator Bennet (D., Colo.) would make the federal tax credit for children “fully refundable,” meaning that people who do not pay enough tax to qualify for the full credit can get a “refund” on taxes they never paid — up to $1,500 a year for children up to age six, and then $1,000 a year per child thereafter. Giving people a tax “refund” on taxes they have not paid is up there with requiring insurers to “insure” against pre-existing conditions (which by definition cannot be insured against, having already come to pass) in the great Washington rogues’ gallery of nonsensical horsepucky deployed for the purpose of allowing members of Congress to avoid political responsibility for spending money.

A “refundable” (there is no refund) “tax” (the tax liability is incidental and may amount to $0.00) “credit” (it is not a credit) creates a kind of pseudo-entitlement in the tax code. Congress likes those, because Congress does not have to appropriate money to spend through the tax code. It is basically dishonest and cowardly, but there is a better way:

Send them checks.

Seriously. The hoop-jumping that Washington will engage in to avoid the simple, straightforward process of appropriating money for this or that benefit and then sending checks to the beneficiaries is astounding. There are poor people, and some of those poor people have children. If we want to give them money, then we should just — radical idea! — give them money.

Send them checks.

But giving people money requires that Congress do its job: passing budgets, appropriating funds, facing democratic accountability, etc. But spending money on poor people is not politically popular.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...