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The GOP Is Flirting With This Hungarian Autocrat’s Generous—And Exclusionary—Family Benefits

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Viktor Orbán offers free IVF, generous tax breaks for kids, and discount coupons for minivans.

Hungary, the landlocked Central European country of about ten million people, has become an unusual role model for US conservatives, with Tucker Carlson describing it as a place “with a lot of lessons for the rest of us.”  Since 2010, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has transformed the democratic country into a right-wing autocracy, or in his words “illiberal democracy,” by delegitimizing the independent press, building a militarized wall along the country’s southern border, expelling asylum seekers in potential violation of international treaties, separating migrants from their children, essentially outlawing gay adoption, and banning schools from teaching LGBTQ content to students under 18. After meeting with him at the White House, former president Donald Trump was inspired to say Orbán was “probably, like me, a little bit controversial, but that’s OK.”

If Orbán’s policies sound similar to the Build-the-Wall, Don’t-Say-Gay brand of American conservatism, his penchant for bolstering the birth rate and rewarding large families appear to be yet another Hungarian-inspired social policy blueprint some Republicans are pining to adopt. The Hungarian government covers the cost of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) treatments, provides up to three years of paid maternity benefits, doles out discount coupons for minivans, and grants forgivable interest-free loans to young couples who plan to procreate.

In the US, where birth rates have also fallen about 16 percent in the last decade, the imitators are lining up. Earlier in March, former President Donald Trump floated “baby bonuses for a new baby boom” at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. “You men are so lucky out there!” Trump added, offering an unsubtle reference to how this government policy would enhance men’s sex lives.

Also this month, Senator J.D. Vance, an Ohio Republican who reduces his views on reproductive and family policy to the concise “babies are good” declarative sentence, suggested to reporters on Capitol Hill that the cost of childbirth should be paid for by the government. Previously, Vance has lauded Orbán for his forgivable loan program for married couples, in which they can get interest-free loans dependent on their promise to have kids.  “Why can’t we do that here?” he asked, speaking to a conservative think-tank in July 2021. “Why can’t we actually promote family formation?”

Orbán often says that his pro-natalist policies stem from a desire to bolster the size of the country’s declining population and labor force through a baby boom rather than through immigration. Some countries “want as many migrants to enter as there are missing kids so that the numbers will add up,” Orban said in 2019. “We Hungarians have a different way of thinking. Instead of just numbers, we want Hungarian children. Migration for us is surrender.”

But the closer you look at his country’s eligibility requirements for family benefits, the more clearly you see the kind of babies Orbán wants to populate his boom: not just Hungarian nationals, but children from married, heterosexual, middle-income and up Hungarian nationals with stay-at-home moms.

The Hungarian government has taken over IVF clinics and subsidized the treatment cost down to $0 from $20,000-plus, but lesbians are excluded from the benefit. It provides up to three years of paid parental leave to mothers, but merely five days for fathers—an imbalance that exacerbates the gender inequality gap in Hungary, which ranks third from the bottom on a ranking of the European Union’s 27 member countries. 

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