Momentum appears to be building on both sides of the aisle for Americans to receive mandatory paid medical leave for new parents and maybe even for people to care for sick family members.
The White House said President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump will meet Wednesday day with Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, and other key members on Capitol Hill to continue discussions on the issue. Ivanka Trump worked last year with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, on a plan to provide parental leave benefits via the Social Security system, but the effort never gained real traction.
And as Republicans warm to the issue of family leave, a growing group of Democrats – particularly those seeking their party’s presidential nomination in 2020 – are also pushing paid leave as a top priority. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and several House Democrats on Tuesday reintroduced their FAMILY Act, which would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave and has become Democrats’ template for how the government could guarantee the benefit not just for new parents but also for those who are ill or providing care to a family member.
“It’s encouraging to see members on both sides of the aisle putting forward paid family leave proposals,” Ivanka Trump said a statement provided to The Washington Post. “Twenty-five years after [the Family Medical Leave Act] was passed we finally have bipartisan agreement on the importance of paid leave for working parents. Now we are seeking to build consensus around policy that can garner enough votes to be passed into law.”
Rubio and Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Montana, plan to reintroduce their alternative family leave proposal within the next month, a measure that draws from existing Social Security benefits and is significantly less generous than what Democrats are proposing. It offers six weeks of paid leave that would be extended only to new parents.
But that measure may get buy-in from the White House considering Ivanka Trump helped craft it.
And the president, who called for paid family leave in his State of the Union address last year, again signaled in his address to Congress last week that he views the effort as a top priority. “I am also proud to be the first president to include in my budget a plan for nationwide paid family leave, so that every new parent has the chance to bond with their newborn child,” Trump said.
“My impression is the White House is increasingly engaged on this and making it a priority as they look forward to what is possible this year – assuming one thinks bipartisan legislation is possible in this climate,” a senior GOP aide said in an interview. “It’s an increasing area of focus, so that’s encouraging.”
If there’s any issue ripe for bipartisan work, it could be paid family leave. While the number of women in the workforce is at an all-time high, the United States remains the only developed country with no mandatory paid leave offered by employers.
Most Americans say employers should provide workers with paid family leave, although there are sharp divides when people are asked whether it should be a requirement. In a 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center, 51 percent of respondents said the federal government should mandate that employers provide paid leave, while 48 percent said it shouldn’t.
Likewise, there remains division between some Republican members of Congress who feel paid leave is an essential benefit for a workforce increasingly led by women and others who argue it amounts to government overreach. The aide described it as an “evolving process” within the party.
“Generally, the Republican Party is still grappling with how to deal with this issue,” the aide said. “There are folks who know the party needs a position but are unsure of how to craft a policy, and there are still folks who don’t think there is a federal nexus to be played.”
Rubio’s measure, which he first introduced in August, would allow new parents to finance at least two months of paid leave by drawing from their Social Security benefits, which would result in a three- to six-month delay in receiving those benefits when they retire. While the measure wouldn’t cost anything because it draws on existing benefits, it hasn’t yet received any co-sponsors.
Democrats have called the bill deeply inadequate, noting it would apply only to new parents and not others in need of medical-related leave. Yet Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut) said yesterday she’s grateful Republicans are willing to at least discuss the issue.
“We have our colleagues on the other sides of the aisle and the president who have come out with some form of paid leave,” DeLauro said at the news conference reintroducing the Democrats’ bill. “That’s good and it’s part of the national debate and this issue is at the center of our public discourse. . . . But I will just say to you their proposals fail to go far enough.”
Rubio said he “welcomes the discussion in Congress over paid family leave.” He said in a statement:”I am committed to seeing this effort through.”
Wagner shouted “yes” when Trump referred to paid family leave during his address to Congress. The reference also prompted applause from the crowd of House Democratic women clad in white, who sat in silence for much of the president’s speech. The FAMILY Act has 160 co-sponsors in the House and 34 in the Senate – including every senator and representative seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.
Some form of paid family leave is mandated in six states plus the District of Columbia, said Vicki Shabo, vice president at the National Partnership for Women and Families. California, which has the longest-standing leave requirements in the nation, may seek to expand its mandate to six months under a proposal expected from the state’s new Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom.
Shabo, who testified at a Senate Finance subcommittee hearing last summer on the topic, said it was striking that every witness before the GOP-led panel agreed that adopting guaranteed paid leave was “an economic imperative.” That wouldn’t have been the case five years ago, she said in an interview.
“What’s been different and exciting over the last couple of years is seeing Republicans come on board with the issue,” Shabo said. “It’s exciting to be in a place and time where we’re debating the ‘what’ and not the ‘if.’ “