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Taxation and Breastfeeding

February 19, 2011

Okay, I’m going to risk displaying my ignorance with this post. Darwin Catholic explains why he thinks the brouhaha over Michelle Obama’s proposed tax deductions to encourage breastfeeding is rather silly, and I’m inclined to agree.  He also notes the inefficiency of the deductions, which I imagine is also correct.

Here’s where I’m confused: Michelle Bachmann has described the proposal as the government going out and buying breast pumps.  Sarah Palin has said that Michelle Obama is telling mothers, “You’d better breast-feed your baby.”  Neither of these depictions is anywhere close to accurate, but that’s not what puzzles me.  The proposal amounts to a tax deduction for nursing supplies.  Those who claim this deduction will decrease their taxable income.  They will pay less in taxes. I would think Bachmann and Palin would cheer efforts to reduce the taxes of breastfeeding Americans.

If I wanted to join in the silly hubbub, I could ask why Bachmann and Palin are against lowering the taxes of nursing mothers, but that would be darn right inappropriate of me.

Kyle Cupp is a freelance writer and editor with a background in literature, language, and philosophy.

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  1. Kimberley permalink
    February 19, 2011 9:36 am


    I do agree. I can’t figure out why Palin came out publicly against this other than a knee jerk reaction against whatever Michele says. If you want to pick fights against government involvement that is one thing, but appearing to be anti-help for breast feeding moms isn’t the side you want to be seen on. Perhaps the anti-Palin derangement syndrome seen in most media and blogs has manifested iteself in Sarah as anti-Michele derangement syndrome.Even if she appealed to her core core base on this one, the tea party, by her actions on this she just raised some eyebrows among the independents with this stance.

    • Kyle R. Cupp permalink
      February 19, 2011 10:36 am

      Does Palin ever try to appeal to independents?

  2. February 19, 2011 10:28 am

    As you say, it’s a bit of a misrepresentation. (Goodness knows, Republicans should be the last ones to describe a tax deduction as the government buying things.) I think this was mostly a case of someone seeing a headline about the tax deduction proposal and thinking it would be clever to make a fuss to talk about the “nanny state” in this context.

    It’s a massive tempest in a milk bottle, from all that I can see.

    • Kyle R. Cupp permalink
      February 19, 2011 10:35 am

      And the puns never cease to flow!

  3. Pentimento permalink
    February 19, 2011 11:32 am

    I wonder if Palin et al. aren’t also attempting to associate breastfeeding with leftist cultural values and bottle-feeding with the heartland? Ironic, since during the 2008 campaign Palin joked about taking her breast pump on the campaign trail with her. Ironic also since congressional Republicans are trying to cut WIC, which not only helps innumerable families in the heartland, but also pays for formula.

    • February 19, 2011 7:11 pm

      I wonder if Palin et al. aren’t also attempting to associate breastfeeding with leftist cultural values and bottle-feeding with the heartland?

      I find that pretty hard to credit. Having moved in conservative circles in the heartland pretty extensively, we’ve known very few mothers who have chosen formula of breastfeeding unless because she’s physically unable to nurse.

      Indeed, the only voluntary formula users I’ve known have been moderate to liberal career women.

    • Pentimento permalink
      February 20, 2011 8:33 am

      Thanks for clarifying, Darwin. I admit to knowing little about conservative culture in the heartland, having only recently been uprooted from what I and my confrères always thought was a very different culture (bohemian-artsy, in a large urban area), where nonetheless breastfeeding also held sway, and was part of the ideology of what we thought of as conscious motherhood.

      But I’m wondering if breastfeeding has more to do with class and education than with professed ideology. I live in what I suppose you could call the heartland now, and I’ve observed that, outside of a few Trad Catholics and academics I know here, everyone else seems to bottle-feed, but that’s because everyone else seems to be impoverished and buying formula with WIC vouchers. I wonder if mothers in the heartland who are reflexively, rather than thoughtfully/ideologically, conservative — the kind of Americans that Palin et al. need to appeal to in order to win votes and popularity — breastfeed, especially if those mothers are poor or working-class. Based on my own anecdotal observations, I’m going to guess that they do not.

      I was a member of La Leche League in the Bronx, and one of the things that my group often worried about was the extremely low rate of breastfeeding among African-American mothers in our borough, the most heavily minority borough in NYC, and the poorest urban county in the United States (and then some of my other friends were staging nurse-ins at Toys-R-Us in Times Square after a breastfeeding mother was asked to cover her baby’s head with a blanket). I’m guessing, based on the anecdotal information gathered from my own observation, that breastfeeding rates among poor women in the heartland — who tend to be white rather than black, and reflexively conservative rather than, like their black urban counterparts, reflexively liberal — are not much higher.

      So, whether practiced by liberals or conservatives, breastfeeding still quite possibly comes off to working-class mothers as something elite, even effete, and hopelessly out-of-reach if you happen to have a low-level job in, say, retail or food service. And I wonder if Bachmann and Palin were attempting to play on a particular kind of class resentment symbolized by breastfeeding when knocking this very tame initiative.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
        February 20, 2011 9:19 am


        your anecdotal observations square with my own in various areas. There are economic pressures to not breastfeed but there are also cultural ones: the suggestion (promoted by formula manufacturers) that formula feeding is “modern”, “progressive” and suggestive of being “higher class.” A friend of mine, who was born in the hill country in Arkansas (a self-described “hillbilly”) said that where he was from it was the poorest white women who used formula because they thought it made them look less poor.

        Though off topic, I want to mention that formula companies used the same tactic (with disastrous consequences) in Africa in the 70’s and 80’s. African women were told that the “Western” thing to do was use formula.

        • Pentimento permalink
          February 20, 2011 9:20 am

          David, my parents used to boycott Nestlé for their formula-pushing in Africa.

        • Kyle R. Cupp permalink
          February 20, 2011 9:28 am

          That brings back memories.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
          February 20, 2011 9:28 am

          My sister saw it first hand: her husband was in the Danish version of the Peace Corps in Kenya.

      • Darwin permalink
        February 21, 2011 5:44 pm

        I’d agree that the breastfeeding divide seems to be primarily a class and income one — which incidentally is where I’d hope Michelle Obama’s advocacy (I can’t imagine the deduction would be a big factor, but advocacy can help a lot) of breastfeeding actually would be a positive force.

        I’ll admit, I still find it hard to imagine that this is a case, though of Palin and Bachman trying to do a “only liberals breastfeed” thing, I think it’s more just that they imagined they could make some cheap points over, “now the liberals even want to tell you how to feed your baby”. So it’s not an anti-breastfeeding point, but rather a “government shouldn’t stick it’s nose into everything” point.

        Their choosing to make a point of that on this particular issue I can only ascribe to poor political instincts — but I don’t think it’s an anti-breastfeeding point, per se. Especially as they both talked about breastfeeding their own kids.

        • February 21, 2011 7:27 pm

          I find this a truly wonderful moment where I agree with you, with a possible adjustment or two.

          I do think it was a case of political haymaking. I also agree with another commenter that if the Obama administration publicly said the teachings of Christ were a valuable resource that should be utilized and studied by all Americans that someone from the right fringe like Beck would be on TV that evening proclaiming that Christ was an evil socialist. That is because in politics the other guy is always the devil. Truth told both sides are the devil because politics is the devil’s playground.

          I will also say that I agree that the Government frequently sticks it’s nose in our business. I do however find it ironic that either side goes pious over this meddling as both sides do it constantly.

          Apparently we humans tend to only notice when our neighbor sticks his nose in our window and fail to feel the breeze when our nose is racing over to his window.

  4. February 19, 2011 11:33 am

    In terms of the inefficiency of the deductions, when one becomes aware that obesity has practically doubled the cost of health care in this country, I would propose for those that think that it is inefficient to provide tax credits that we perhaps should provide free grants. Free grants to purchase breast pumps and to also pay for a nationwide ad campaign and it would still be a major bargain when stacked up next to the cost we will pay for over indulgence.

  5. Robert Klingle permalink
    February 19, 2011 3:00 pm

    I have said for a long tie that if the President would come out in favor of Jesus Christ, the right wing would be against Him. It is just their nature.

    They cannot help themselves.

    • Maureen O'Brien permalink
      February 19, 2011 4:20 pm

      I agree.

  6. Jimmy Mac permalink
    February 22, 2011 4:56 pm

    Not so much the right wing as the small Looney Tunes version thereof, i.e., those who believe each and every utterance of the likes of Bachmann, Palin, Beck (the King Looney of them all!), Limburger and Hannity.

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