In The New York Times, Gail Collins writes:
Back in 1971, Congress passed a bill aimed at providing high-quality early childhood education and after-school programs for any American family that wanted them. It was bipartisan, which in those days meant more than a whole lot of Democrats and somebody from Maine. “Having been a working mother, I knew what day-care problems were like,” said Martha Phillips, who was at that time a staffer at the Republican Research Committee in the House.
Then Richard Nixon surprised almost everyone by vetoing it, with a scathing message written by Pat Buchanan, claiming the bill would “commit the vast moral authority of the National Government to the side of communal approaches to child rearing.”
The social right, which was just beginning to come into its own, was delighted! Opponents reinforced the message with a massive letter-writing campaign. They accused members of Congress of plotting to deprive parents of the right to take their offspring to church, give children the power to sue their parents for forcing them to do chores, and, in general, turn the country into a Maoist concentration camp.
Collins is wrong: Nixon’s decision surprised no one. For months, administration officials had objected to its cost and intrusiveness. More than two weeks before, on November 21, 1971, the New York Times reported that the measure faced “an almost certain veto.” Notwithstanding Collins’s out-of-context quotation, the veto message made clear that Nixon strongly supported day care:
Federal support for State and local day care services under Head Start and the Social Security Act already totals more than half a billion dollars a year–but this is not enough. That is why our H.R. 1 welfare reform proposals, which have been before the Congress for the past 26 months, include a request for $750 million annually in day care funds for welfare recipients and the working poor, including $50 million for construction of facilities. And that is why we support the increased tax deductions written into the Revenue Act of 1971, which will provide a significant Federal subsidy for day care in families where both parents are employed, potentially benefitting 97 percent of all such families in the country and offering parents free choice of the child care arrangements they deem best for their own families. This approach reflects my conviction that the Federal Government’s role wherever possible should be one of assisting parents to purchase needed day care services in the private, open market, with Federal involvement in direct provision of such services kept to an absolute minimum.