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What Joe Biden said in the op-ed on working parents that Gillibrand attacked in the Democratic debate

Gillibrand on Biden's record on women's rights
Kirsten Gillibrand questions Joe Biden on record on women's rights 07:30

Joe Biden came under fire at Wednesday's Democratic debate for an op-ed he wrote nearly 40 years ago that allegedly said women working outside the home would cause the "deterioration of the family." Biden, in fact, did not explicitly make that argument — but he was, at the time, a strong critic of a plan for child care tax credits, and working mothers had the most to lose from his stance.

Biden wrote the op-ed for the Daily Times newspaper in Salisbury, Maryland, in 1981, as the Senate weighed whether to expand a child care tax credit. Biden, then a senator for Delaware, was the only senator to vote against the measure, which passed 94-1.

The op-ed was recently unearthed and shared by the presidential campaign of one of Biden's rivals, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who pressed him on it at Wednesday's debate.

In his op-ed, Biden said he did not oppose a child care tax credit for lower-income families, but he did oppose expanding it to people making more than $30,000 a year (more than $87,000 in today's money), saying they could afford it without a subsidy. However, his op-ed went beyond that debate and included comments that seem to disparage the entire idea of paid child care, saying it allows parents to avoid "responsibility" for raising their children.

"Too many Americans — especially members of my generation — go out of their way to avoid individual responsibility for themselves and for their families," Biden wrote. "That is a shame. But a recent act of Congress puts the federal government in the position, through the tax codes, of subsidizing the deterioration of the family. That is tragic."

Biden also worried that "upper income" parents would take advantage of the tax credit to make more unnecessary purchases, calling it "the perfect example of the materialism that has stricken our society."

"I do not believe the federal government should be a party to a system which encourages couples to place their children in day-care centers in order to acquire material possessions that go far beyond any family basic necessities," Biden wrote.

"Maybe I'm a little too old-fashioned, but I still believe the old adage that 'blood is blood thick, mine are mine, and I'm responsible for them.'"

The op-ed at no point singled out mothers or said which parent should stay home to care for children. According to an Indianapolis Star report at the time, which HuffPost resurfaced, Biden said in separate remarks, "I do not care whether in a modern marriage you want the man or the woman to take that responsibility. That has to be resolved by each couple individually."

But data from the Pew Research Center shows that most stay-at-home parents are women; back in 1989, only 4% of stay-at-home parents were dads.

Gillibrand targeted Biden over the op-ed at Wednesday's debate, claiming that he blamed working women for the deterioration of families, even though he didn't exactly use those words.

"What he wrote in the op-ed was that he believed that women working outside the home would 'create the deterioration of family,'" Gillibrand said. "He also said that women who were working outside the home were 'avoiding responsibility.'"

Sen. Gillibrand calls Biden's 1981 op-ed "disturbing" 08:18

Biden pushed back on Gillibrand and pointed that he, at one point, was a single parent after the death of his first wife, Neilia, in 1972.

After the debate, Gillibrand said it was clear who would have been hurt by Biden's views back then.

"Give me a break. Who in 1981 was going to be staying home to watch the children?" she told CNN. "It's obvious. It's typically, in most families, women. Women are still primary caregivers."

Biden has advocated for child care assistance in his 2020 campaign, and said each parent should receive an $8,000 tax credit for it.

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