This Issue’s A Bust
Once in a while the political news circuit gets stuck on a topic so amazingly trivial and foolish that the spectacle of such a large tempest raging in such a small teapot makes it hard to look away. This week, the leading ladies of the right and left have decided to fight it out over breastfeeding.
|I picked this for obvious reasons, but the parent in me says “No diaper and white dress: Watch Out!”|
How, you might ask, could something like breastfeeding become a hot political issue? It seems that as part of her Let’s Move program to reduce childhood obesity, Michelle Obama has decided to promote breastfeeding. A nurse-in at the White House? No, that might actually be interesting. Rather, the proposal is for the IRS to grant a tax deduction for breast pumps and other nursing supplies.
Seeing a chance to turn a phrase, Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin have weighed in, saying that getting the government involved in breastfeeding is the ultimate in “nanny state” politics. And this has given political commentators on the left the chance to weigh in with “Palin attacks breastfeeding” and “Bachmann says government has no business telling women what choices to make about their bodies” type headlines.
Frankly, this strikes me as one of the silliest topics to have a political fight over, ever. The proposal itself is laughably ineffective. A quick glance down Amazon shows current prices for popular breast pumps ranging from $50 for the basic battery operated model to around $300 for the “Medela Pump In Style Advanced Breast Pump with Metro Bag”.
Now, I’ll be the first to agree that $300 would be a significant outlay for many working class moms having to go back to work while their babies are still nursing. But let’s think for a moment about how a tax deduction works. You still have to shell out for the breast pump yourself. You save the receipt, and months later when you do your taxes you get to take that $300 off of your reported income. This doesn’t lower the amount of tax you pay (or as people usually think of it: increase the amount you get back) by $300, though. It decreases your taxable income. The maximum amount you would “get back” months after the fact would be your top marginal tax rate times $300. If you’re middle class or working class, that would be 15%. So you’d get $45 dollars back for the $300 you spent, but only months later.
Perhaps I’m overly skeptical, but I find it hard to imagine this would cause lots of working class mothers who would otherwise have given their kids formula instead of breastmilk once they returned to work to think, “Wow. I could really do this. And it comes with a ‘metro bag’ too. That will make it all work out!” (Not to discount the virtues of a metro bag. I mean, couldn’t we all use a little more metro in our lives?)
The thing is, the main costs of breatfeeding your child are not monetary, especially for a mother who is having to work away from her child for a standard set of works hours. The main costs relate to time and trouble. And there’s no way that a tax deduction can solve that problem.
So the proposal is, I think, pretty clearly so ineffective in achieving its purported aims as to be deeply silly. Which makes the attempt to grab headlines by opposing it also a quite silly. While I can agree with the desire to keep the tax code simpler, that’s a horse that left the stable a long time ago and this sort of empty posturing is going to cost the government virtually nothing, since a truly minimal number of people will ever use it.
Now if Mrs. Obama really wants to generate awareness for breastfeeding, I think that nurse-in idea at the White House has some merits. Just picture a thousand nursing mothers on the White House lawn. Nurse for America!
At the very least, it would make for better pictures than that characteristic “anger shots” which reporters can’t help illustrating their stories with when they write about the female public figures arguing. And after all: