You’ll never guess what happened this week. The House passed a bipartisan bill that’s virtually certain to become law. And it’s not some meaningless symbolic gesture or a big, embarrassing tax break for corporations. It’s a bill to improve childcare, primarily for families without a lot of money.

The measure, which passed by voice vote Monday, would reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant. The CCDBG provides state and local government with funding to subsidize low-income families that need, but cannot afford, childcare. The program has been around since 1990, but Congress hasn’t formally reauthorized it since 1998. The money kept flowing, but the design didn’t change—and, like most such programs, it was overdue for some improvements.

Among them was a real no-brainer: Improving safety. As you may have read in some major newspapers, or perhaps here at the New Republic, the quality of childcare in the America is inconsistent and frequently lousy. Sometimes conditions are so bad that children suffer injuries or even die. Under this reauthorization, which Senate leaders have said their chamber will soon pass, states would lose their CCDBG if they didn’t impose a few safety requirements—like making sure all childcare workers get full background checks and training in safe sleeping for infants.

I know, it sounds like basic stuff. But many states don’t require these things now, as Maryam Adamu of the Center for American Progress points out:

Prior to reauthorization, only 13 states properly vetted child care center workers. Four states, including Georgia, did not even require child care providers to check employees against the child abuse and sex offender registry. To put this into perspective, Georgia does not require a fingerprint check for child care providers but does for massage therapists. Nebraska requires no criminal background check for child care providers but does require one for real estate agents. 

The bill’s champions include two retiring Democrats with long records of fighting for the well-being of children—George Miller, ranking Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee, and Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. Improving childcare has also been a top priority of Nancy Pelosi, leader of the House Democrats. But this bill also attracted support from some prominent Republicans, like Senator Lamar Alexander from Tennessee. And that’s not so surprising. At least at the state level, improving early childhood education has proven popular among conservatives. New York City has gotten a lot of attention for its new universal pre-kindergarten program, for example, but it’s following the lead of two notoriously red states—Georgia and Oklahoma, whose programs experts have hailed.

Children served in CCDBG, via CLASP

Via CLASP

There’s much more work to be done: The demand for affordable childcare far exceeds the supply. CCDBG served just 1.5 million kids in 2012, the lowest number since at least 1998, according to CLASP. President Obama has proposed universal pre-K in each of his last two budgets, citing their long-term benefits. But they require large government outlays. Republicans and, yes, quite a few Democrats simply won’t consider that right now—which is why you should think of this week’s accomplishment as a baby step, in every sense of the word.

—Jonathan Cohn

News from Thursday:

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: Another football player was arrested for assault. This time it was Arizona running back Jonathan Dwyer who allegedly head butted his wife after she refused his sexual advances. The following day he allegedly punched her in the face and threw a shoe at his 17-month-old son. (ESPN)

OBAMACARE: The administration announced that 7.3 million Americans had paid their health insurance premiums. As Jonathan Cohn writes, another conservative talking point goes poof! (QED)

CONGRESS: The Senate's "busy" legislative fall came to an end Thursday after the chamber passed a bill to fund the government until December 11 and authorized the administration to give military aid to moderate Syrian rebels. The House passed those bills Wednesday and finished up its work Thursday as well. Yes, it is absurd that Congress is taking a nearly two month recess for the midterms. (Ezra Klein, Vox)

RECORD-BREAKING: If you live on the East Coast, the weather might have felt cooler-than-average this summer. For the rest of the world, it was the hottest summer ever recorded, says NOAA. (Doyle RiceUSA Today)

IMMIGRATION: Police aren't the only ones facing criticism for excessive force—so does the Border Patrol. They will be trying out body cameras to see if it helps (Eric Johnson, Reuters)

SCOTLAND: It's still part of the U.K., in case you hadn't heard. (The Guardian)

Articles worth reading:

Zeke Emanuel doesn't want to live past 75: The bioethicist, physician, and policy thinker makes his case for embracing mortality rather than trying to fight it. (The Atlantic)

Is the Dartmouth Atlas all wrong? Sarah Kliff breaks down a controversial research paper challenging one of health policy's most sacred tomes. (Vox)

How crisis pregnancy centers trick women: Amanda Marcotte reviews a Vice documentary that takes viewers inside and undercover. (XX Factor)

Boredom returns: Monetary policy is back to being boring, Michael Grunwald argues—and that's a good thing! (Time)

Stories we'll be following:

The big climate summit starts next week, so we'll be getting ready for that. Apparently the Obama Administration is too, since it's deploying members of his Cabinet to make a case for what the U.S. is doing to fight climate change—in John Podesta's words, a "full-court press."

At QED:

Rebecca Leber explains why the U.S. Army is well-prepared to help in the fight against Ebola. Danny Vinik takes on Matt Yglesias, over the issue of what Obama's worst economic policy mistake was.  

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