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Santorum Wants You to Go Forth and Multiply

February 29, 2012

It now appears that Rick Santorum is likely to be in the GOP presidential race for weeks, if not months, to come. If so, we should get to know him a little better. He just might be the next President of the United States.

It's not clear yet what he would do for our country, but it's increasingly clear what he would have you do for your country: Go forth and multiply.

By now, most of us are familiar with Santorum's position on birth control. We know that he wants to give states the authority again to ban contraception. And we now know, despite his earlier equivocation, that he's against Title X, the federal program that provides low-income women with access to family planning services.

And it's increasingly clear that Santorum's position on birth control stems from his personal and religious beliefs about women and childbearing. He obviously believes that privately-held religious convictions should play a central role in public policy. He says that when he first read President Kennedy's speech on the separation of church and state he wanted to "throw up."

So when he talks about the "dangers of contraception," he's not just giving us an insight into his personal views, he's revealing to us the values that would guide his presidency. In other words, he's not just "pro-life," in the sense that he opposes abortion, even in the cases of rape or incest. He's pro-life in the sense that he wants Americans to have a lot more babies, whether planned or not.

And this conviction apparently carries over to tax policy. In a letter to the Wall Street Journal a few days ago, he says that he wants to triple the personal tax exemption for dependent children," raising it to $11,100 from income for each child instead of $3,700, an extra $7,400." For large families with middle-class incomes this would effectively wipe-out all income tax liability, placing a much larger tax burden on smaller families, particularly for childless couples or singles without any dependents.

Such a monumental shift in tax-policy would give a whole new meaning to "supply-side" economics. Instead of government tax policy being used to promote savings and investment, tax policy would be used to promote procreation.

Of course, Santorum's tripling of the child tax exemption would do nothing to lower the cost of childbearing for low-income women and households who don't have any income tax liability. A refundable tax child tax credit might help low-income mothers, but as Santorum's letter to the Wall Street Journal makes clear, he thinks that would be wrong, because that would be tantamount to "welfare."

Santorum's proposed tripling of the child tax exemption is social-engineering on a massive scale, but of course Santorum insists that when he talks about social issues, he's just "talking about freedom." He doesn't want "government imposing themselves on your lives."

Does he really believe that limiting access to contraceptives and stopping women from preventing unwanted pregnancies is about freedom? If so, are we talking about the freedom to have an unintended pregnancy? Because that's the practical effect of shutting down government-funded family planning clinics.

Despite the eye-popping implications of what Rick Santorum keeps on saying about contraception and childbearing, he still insists that the press is giving way too much coverage to his views on social issues. Really? If his proposed tripling of the child tax exemption is any indication, his conservative views on social issues would be a driving force in a Santorum administration.

Americans needs to know more about the values that would underpin a Santorum Administration, not less. If Santorum feels that the women of America are not having enough babies, and that a major shift in tax policy is needed to boost procreation, he ought to tell us why. Is it because of the Biblical command, "Go forth and multiply," or does he have other reasons for making childbearing the central plank of his campaign? The voters of America deserve an answer to that question.

This op-ed by Population Institute President Robert Walker originally ran on February 29, 2012 on The Huffington Post.

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