The contract with America is looking more and more like an election-year gimmick. Consider the strange alliance that Representative Henry Hyde (R-IL) has made with freshman Representative Lynn Woosley (D-CA) to federalize the collection of child support payments. If Congress ever passes the “Uniform Child Support Enforcement Act” as part of the COP’s “welfare reform” package, then every state in the Union will be required to notify the Internal Revenue Service of all court-ordered child support decrees. Thereafter, the IRS will act as the collection agent.

Sound like a good idea? Consider this, from a Hyde-Woosley briefing paper on the bill: “Custodial parents will be presumed to have assigned the right to collect support to the IRS unless they affirmatively elect to retain such rights.” More insidiously, the IRS really won’t “collect” anything. Employers will. “Wherever possible, collections shall be made through wage withholding or through estimated tax payments for the self-employed.” To make the bill more attractive to those who might not support it, “when not enough money is collected to pay both child support and taxes, child support payments will have priority.”

Of course, the Hyde-Woosley bill sounds great. Many fathers abandon their kids. If Dad heads for the state line, Mom must seek the help of multiple state agencies and lawyers to collect what is owed the children. In 1990, Hyde and Woosley report, 65 percent of women who “wanted child support did not obtain it,” while in 1989 “25 percent of those women supposed to receive child support received nothing.” They also say nearly 16 million children under age 18 live with only one parent, and that in 1990, 10 million women had children under age 21 in fatherless homes, the poverty rate for which was 32 percent.

Whether a woman “wants” child support and whether she is entitled to it are two different things, but in any event the bill’s authors aver that collecting child support requires so much bureaucratic testosterone that only the IRS can do it. Hyde and Woosley say the 1,500 state agencies charged with collecting child support only get nine percent of the money they are after, or about $3.98 of child support for every dollar spent trying to collect it. Less than one dollar for every ten dollars owed is collected, and Hyde and Woosley estimate they could move 300,000 single mothers off the dole by collecting the child support they arc due.

As far as enforcement goes, the scary stuff is in the large print. The IRS will collect child support the same way it collects taxes: “without judicial intervention . . . summarily . . . by seizing the taxpayer’s property.” In short, it will use the same Gestapo-like tactics to hound “deadbeat dads” that it uses to hound law-abiding taxpayers. “That’s exactly why we are doing it,” Hyde’s spokesman Tom Chesno says. “It’s the most feared [and efficient] collection agency in the world.” And to show how fearsome and efficient the IRS can be, Hyde and Woosley quote an article from Reader’s Digest that documented the agency’s abuse of taxpayers.

This is the kind of bill no one on Capitol Hill wants to oppose, including House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his deputy, Representative Dick Armey, the Majority Leader. It has more than 80 cosponsors, one of whom is Representative Steve Largent, a freshman Republican from Oklahoma. He told Chesno, “this is the only time you’ll see me vote for the federalization of anything,” but perhaps that’s because Largent’s father was a deadbeat, too. Mr. Largent wants to “send a signal to young men,” although whether he thinks young men should marry before they have children or that women should stay with their husbands is anyone’s guess.

But neither Largent nor Hyde nor Woosley, who claims a “deadbeat” husband forced her onto welfare 30 years ago, has stopped to ask about the constitutionality of this bill or whether collecting child support and enforcing divorce decrees is a legitimate function of the federal government. Nor has it occurred to Mr. Hyde that he may run into trouble if Majority Leader Armey’s flat-tax bill ever passes. Mr. Armey, who supports Hyde’s totalitarian measure, would eliminate withholding, which begs the question of how Mr. Hyde’s paladins at the IRS would conduct their crusade.

These issues notwithstanding, the problems here are not just “deadbeat Dads” and “single Moms,” but divorce and what we used to call bastards, or “illegitimate children.” Millions of single mothers and their children suffer in poverty because they live in a society that no longer views marriage as a lifelong commitment and allows, encourages, and subsidizes divorce on demand, recreational sex, and the birth of what Diana Ross would call a “love child.” It may be true that many children have been abandoned by their fathers, but perhaps that’s because “Dad” ain’t gonna buy the cow when he can get the milk for free. Where there is no sacred vow to bind irrevocably a man and woman, where there is neither legal, social, nor religious sanction for promiscuity, adultery, abandonment, and divorce, don’t expect a man or woman to feel a sense of duty to each other or to the offspring that sprang from their loins.

Then there’s the case of the man who made a marriage vow in a church and kept it. In the abstract, Hyde’s pointman Chesno is right when he says there is no excuse for not supporting your children. But a marriage vow creates not only certain rights but also reciprocal duties. A man is duty-bound to support his children, but that duty assumes an intact marriage with their mother. When the “unhappy” liberated woman gets a “no-fault” divorce and moves the children 3,000 miles away from the father, she has denied him any role in raising his children. She is the one responsible for the squalor in which they may be living. Yet he must smilingly pay the freight so Mom, the kids, and perhaps Mom’s live-in beau can have a blast. The jilted ex-husband is allowed no complaint. He is not allowed to ask why his wife can destroy his home and family on a whim and get paid for it. He shuts up. He pays up. Or else.

Most people don’t know it, but in some circumstances it’s already a federal crime not to pay child support, and the IRS collects child support from deadbeat parents if a state supplies the names. Yet it seems the Party of Alvin Toffler and its futurist monarch aren’t much concerned about the promise they made to diminish the power of the state. Instead, they will increase it by allowing the IRS to poke its nose further into the affairs of the American family and its hands deeper into the pockets of the working man.

The Democrats were right. The GOP didn’t offer a Contract with America. They put a contract out on America.