Paid family leave gains momentum in the Senate with new working group

By | May 23, 2019

A new Senate bipartisan working group will study paid family leave, a priority that has been nudged along by senior White House adviser and first daughter Ivanka Trump.

Teaming up to lead the working group are Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., a duo that recently worked together to introduce legislation aimed at ending surprise medical bills that many patients receive after going to the emergency room.

The working group will consider plans states have enacted, how to make paid family leave more widely available, what types of benefits or eligibility criteria they could look at, and how to fund a new paid leave policy.

“This working group reflects the widespread interest in helping moms and dads have financial flexibility to raise children,” Cassidy said in a statement. “The policy must be fiscally sustainable and not bury taxpayers in even more red ink. We will find a bipartisan solution that empowers families and business owners to succeed.”

Sens. Tim Scott, R-S.C., Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Bob Casey, D-Pa., Todd Young, R-Ind., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, are also part of the working group. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the committee, announced its formation in a release Wednesday.

The United States stands in contrast to other developed nations in having no mandatory or subsidized paid leave policy. Under the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act, employers with 50 workers or more must allow 12 weeks of leave every year so they can care for a new child or an ill parent, but in most cases, the leave isn’t paid.

Most Senate Democrats are aligned behind a proposal from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who is also running for president, to fund paid family leave, as well as sick leave, through a payroll tax.

But the issue also has growing interest among Republicans, and the latest working group shows that congressional leaders want it to become more of a priority in the upper chamber.

GOP Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Mike Lee of Utah have paired up for a bill, and Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Mitt Romney of Utah have paired up on another idea, both of which involve letting new parents take out Social Security early in exchange for delaying retirement.

Other discussions are under way. Ernst is holding a meeting Thursday with Republican female senators and with Ivanka Trump on the issue, according to the White House. Cassidy is also still working with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., to craft bipartisan legislation, his office confirmed.

The Senate Finance Committee said all of the bills that have been introduced would be considered by the working group, and the parties will work to resolve their differences. House companions have been introduced to the GOP bills and the Democratic proposal, and a separate bill in the lower chamber proposes letting families use health savings accounts for paid leave.

“After years of substantive debate and dialogue, it is encouraging to see the Senate dedicate efforts to further our bipartisan work to develop paid leave legislation that can pass both chambers,” Trump said in a statement about the working group provided to the Washington Examiner.

The divisions will be difficult to overcome: Republicans aren’t open to introducing a new tax, and Democrats have slammed the GOP idea of using Social Security as “fake leave” and have said that people shouldn’t have to choose between retirement and parental leave.

“I look forward to being a part of this working group to attempt to find a bipartisan path forward to ensure that no American is forced to make the impossible choice between making ends meet and having the necessary time to care for a loved one or navigate a personal health crisis,” Hassan said in a statement.