Republican leaders are taking major heat from their own members over their proposal to eliminate the adoption tax credit, with conservatives saying they can’t stomach eliminating a policy that has been a major contributor to the pro-life movement.
While by no means the largest of the tax breaks facing trims in the Republican tax-cut bill, the adoption credit is symbolically large, using federal taxpayers’ money to ease the path for would-be parents struggling with the high cost of adoption.
“This is a moral responsibility for our pro-life, pro-family party,” Rep. Andy Biggs, Arizona Republican, wrote in a letter to Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, Texas Republican, and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican.
Under the current tax code, families can claim a credit of up to $13,570 to cover expenses associated with completing an adoption. Nixing the credit would save the government $3.8 billion over the next decade, a pittance compared with proposed tax breaks that add up to hundreds of billions of dollars.
But Republican leaders said if their goal is to flatten the tax code, then things like the adoption credit have to be targets for cutting.
Mr. Brady said in practice it also becomes a special interest break, chiefly used by higher-income Americans who itemize their deductions on their tax returns but unused by the majority of Americans who take the standard deduction when they file.
“I worry that the current credit leaves too many Americans behind. I think we need to find a positive way forward,” he said.
The issue is particularly sensitive for Mr. Brady, who has two adopted sons and acknowledged this week that lawmakers are weighing whether to restore the break.
“We love adoption. We have two boys only because two women in really difficult situations chose life, and they created a family where none existed,” Mr. Brady told colleagues during hours of debate over the tax bill in committee this week.
Rep. Mike Kelly, a Pennsylvania Republican who supports restoring the credit, said the item should stretch beyond another party issue.
“I appreciate what you’re doing and everything we’re moving toward,” Mr. Kelly told Mr. Brady. “This is so critical to who we are as a people.”
“We’ve got some work to do, and I’m confident we can do it,” Mr. Brady replied.
Still, he led Republicans in defeating a Democratic amendment aimed at restoring the credit.
Rep. Danny K. Davis, Illinois Democrat, said adopted children experience significantly greater economic and social well-being compared with those in foster care and that getting children into stable family environments could save the government money on long-term social welfare costs.
“My amendment reflects common-sense federal policy — it strengthens families,” he said.
But Rep. Adrian Smith, Nebraska Republican, said the credit is raising the cost of private adoptions and has encouraged parents to turn to international adoptions over those of U.S.-born children.
“Given the opioid epidemic that we’re facing, these issues are flooding our child welfare system with children in need of loving homes,” Mr. Smith said. “And we should be looking at ways to take care of these children who are already in our own communities.”
The break, which started in 1997 with a $5,000 maximum value, begins to phase out once households hit about $200,000 in adjusted gross income.
But wealthier households end up taking bigger breaks, according to the Tax Policy Center. They found that in 2014, those with incomes from $50,000 to $75,000 took an average credit of $2,529 per adoption, rising to $8,015 per adoption for those with incomes from $100,000 to $200,000.
Though House leaders like Mr. Brady were clearly weighing revisions, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, declined to say Tuesday whether the bill in his chamber would ax the adoption credit. The Senate bill is to be released at the end of this week.
Conservative advocacy groups are rallying to the credit’s defense, saying the tax break must be preserved.
Jim Daly, president of the group Focus on the Family, asked listeners of the group’s Wednesday radio program to call the U.S. Capitol switchboard to ask their representative to preserve the credit.
“Tax relief for families is a worthy goal, and we support that, but not at the expense of orphans and adoptive families,” Mr. Daly said. “Families don’t adopt children in order to get a tax credit, but it’s a great way to help them do it.”
The pro-life Susan B. Anthony List is also among the groups fighting to keep the break.
“This important tax credit helps tens of thousands of families each year offset the steep costs of adopting children. We urge the pro-life House to remove this provision from their bill immediately,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the group.