If Democrats want paid leave, they should compromise with President Trump
For the fourth year in a row, President Trump called for paid family leave in his State of the Union address, a remarkable trend given past GOP silence on the issue.
For years, Republican lawmakers tabled the idea of a modernized, federal paid leave plan. But under Trump, the party has shifted. Leading conservatives like Sens. Marco Rubio and Mike Lee are now sponsoring innovative proposals aimed at providing paid leave options for families.
Democrats may be uncomfortable with the GOP’s creative liberties on policy, but it’s important not to make perfect the enemy of the good. A bipartisan compromise on paid leave would speak to the dignity of both new moms and newborn babies, as well as respecting the importance of post-natal health care and building strong families.
The left should welcome the opportunity to partner with the right on such a fundamental issue. Congress has already enacted and Trump signed a law granting 12 weeks of paid leave to federal employees. Workers in the private economy still cry out for the same.
Seventy-five percent of women with children now work outside the home. More important, many women are forced to return to work earlier than they’d like due to the lack of access to paid leave, available to only 17 percent of Americans. For those who can’t afford to miss more than one paycheck, an early and maternally unhealthy return it is.
Fact is, 82 percent of the American public supports paid leave for mothers, but the country is split on support for a government mandate. Republicans have now created options that speak to this division — delivering ideas that work but don’t require higher taxes or mandates. Some of their plans, for example, allow individuals to dip into Social Security or pretax savings accounts to fund their leave if they choose. These options may not sound ideal for those on the left, but they are compromise solutions.
The Advancing Support for Working Families Act is a perfect example of how the two parties can come together on this issue. Co-sponsored by four Republicans and two Democrats, the proposal allows parents to advance $5,000 from their Child Tax Credit upon the birth or adoption of a child.
But few are willing to cross the aisle to make policy a reality. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a leading proponent of the Democrats’ own leave law, known as the Family Act, has called Republican efforts “woefully insufficient and harmful to working families.” Liberal women’s group Emily’s List responded with ire in 2016, calling a Trump proposal a “disingenuous attempt to win over his base.”
Yet the Democratic-supported Family Act has failed to win bipartisan legislative support going back to 2013. No matter how much Democrats want the plan to succeed, Americans have consistently shown they don’t support the higher taxes required to pass it.
Now is the time for deal-making. As both Democrats and Republicans retreat to polarizing positions on issues like immigration and abortion, paid leave could be one of the few exceptions to growing political tribalism.
Team Trump is onboard and has been since before the president took office. Thanks to Ivanka Trump’s influence on her father’s agenda, Trump released a Republican paid leave in the run-up to the 2016 election. That plan included six weeks of leave, with the cost covered by unemployment insurance; several other proposals have been floated since.
The declaration from a sitting Republican president is significant. The last two GOP presidents — Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush — vetoed expansions of existing federal paid leave law. And when the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, mandating unpaid leave for employees of firms with 50 or more employees, was enacted, only 16 Republican senators supported it.
Democratic presidential candidates to a man and woman support tax-based plans. But they can’t assume they have this issue in the bag. A Republican incumbent’s decision to prioritize alternative ideas for paid family leave will get play in head-to-head debates.
As a mother of two, I’m disheartened that it took this long for the GOP to address the issue directly. Pro-family, pro-life legislation is standard fare on the right, but paid leave — an issue directly connected to both of those things — was long absent from the conservative agenda.
When I was pregnant with my first child in 2015, approaching my new employer about paid leave was daunting. Even if pregnancy discrimination is illegal, women still bear the emotional burden of potential disappointment or frustration from employers. I was fortunate enough to work for a smaller company that offered one month of paid leave.
Not everyone is so lucky, which is why politicians must sacrifice ego and implement options accessible to all. The availability of paid leave would relieve at least one of the many anxieties that come with new parenthood — and time to adapt to the extreme physical and hormonal changes a woman endures in the weeks, months and even years after giving birth.
Trump’s decision to throw his weight behind paid leave is progress. It’s time for Democrats to shake his hand and get it done.
Ericka Andersen is a freelance writer.
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