AP NEWS

Lawmakers clash on how to implement for paid family leave

February 18, 2019

It was supposed to be a rare area of bipartisanship, but Democrats and Republicans are now feuding over the best approach to implementing paid family leave.

President Trump embraced the policy at his State of the Union address earlier this month, putting a national spotlight on an issue his elder daughter Ivanka Trump has championed.

Lawmakers in both parties cheered, saying the goal was worthwhile but they are now at odds over how to pay for it.

Key Democrats reintroduced their plan last week, calling for employers to provide 12 weeks of family leave for employees with a new child or who are dealing with personal health issues or health issues with a spouse or family member.

Employees could be paid up to 66 percent of their income, and the program would be funded by a new payroll tax.

Democrats argue their plan would cost employers about $100 per employee per year, and framed the tax as a way for workers to “pitch in.”

“It’s not a great a deal of money, for the amazing investments you’re actually getting,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Democrat.

Democrats, now in control of the House, will have a platform to push their plans though the GOP-led Senate is unlikely to find it palatable.

Republicans said a new payroll tax is regressive, hitting those at lower incomes proportionally harder, and would allow large companies to recoup the costs of their own plans on the backs of taxpayers.

“So, if you will, it’s the taxpayers subsidizing Google or Deloitte,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy, chairman of the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Growth. “That doesn’t work.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, a champion of paid family leave, said a new tax is a killer.

“No bill is going to pass that has a tax attached to it,” he told The Washington Times. “I’m in favor of paid family leave but we have to figure out a way to do it that doesn’t raise taxes and that can pass. If you can’t pass it, it doesn’t happen.”

Mr. Rubio floated his own paid family leave proposal last year that would allow employees to take leave and pay for it by pulling from their future Social Security benefits.

Democrats slammed that idea last week.

“You shouldn’t have to choose between having your Social Security in retirement and having a paid leave plan,” Ms. Gillibrand said. “That’s not fair.”

There’s also disagreement over who should be eligible to take the leave. Democrats’ list is much longer than GOP proposals, which focus on new parents.

“We have to start with one bite at a time, as you start to expand eligibility and certain programs then you start to get a lot of pushback from various people,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, Iowa Republican. “When you start adding in other groups, which while we like the thought of that we have to understand how can we pay for that?”

Ms. Ernst was one of a handful of Republican senators, including Mr. Rubio and Sen. Mike Lee, who met with Mr. Cassidy and Ms. Trump, the president’s daughter and the Trump team’s most vocal advocate.

She said in a statement after the meeting that she’s looking to build a bipartisan consensus “that can garner enough votes to be passed into law.”

Republicans saw the meeting as a first step toward a GOP strategy.

Mr. Cassidy said, “It’s still preliminary, but a commitment to have staff to work together to find more areas of common ground. But the absolute area of common ground is that its good policy both for the child, for the parents, for our country.”