Last week, two congressional Republicans introduced a concrete plan for a concept that is gaining ground in the GOP: paid family leave.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri unveiled the Economic Security for New Parents Act, one of the first pieces of Republican-backed family leave legislation. The bill would allow new parents to withdraw Social Security funds after the birth of a child to cover at least two months of paid parental leave. In exchange, their eligibility date for Social Security retirement funds would be delayed by the amount of time taken in leave.
In a USA Today op-ed announcing the plan, Rubio and Wagner outlined some of the reasons why the bill is needed:
Falling rates of marriage and childbirth, coupled with the loss of stable, good-paying employment in a rapidly shifting global economy are making young families socially and financially insecure. Today, having a child can be an income shock matched only by college tuition or a down payment on a home. Far too many new parents take on new debt or fall onto welfare programs just to pay for their basic living costs after having a child. Stories abound of mothers returning to work just days after giving birth.
They said only 1 in 10 American workers receives paid family leave from an employer, and those 1 in 10 are usually from well-paid professions. Making paid family leave accessible to all workers would reduce debt and the need for welfare, improve outcomes for children, and increase family stability among middle- and low-income families. “In one way or another, all parents take leave from their previous employment when they have children, because raising children is itself a job — the most important job anyone will ever have,” they write.
The plan comes as support for paid family leave is increasing in the GOP as part of a broader family values and economic security platform. President Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who is socially liberal, has nonetheless found allies among Republican social conservatives who believe that a paid family leave plan that is voluntary, and does not raise taxes or create a new entitlement, is consistent with conservative principles. American Principles Project applauded the plan in a statement:
Government has a compelling interest in protecting and encouraging healthy intact families, and proposals such as this one are an important part of a larger, pro-family economic agenda. Republicans concerned with advancing conservative policies which defend and strengthen the American family should have no qualms about supporting this bill.
There are some signs of opposition within conservative circles, however, as a number of conservatives are wary of relying on Social Security, a broken and unsustainable program in dire need of reform. Freedom Partners, a libertarian group backed by the Koch brothers, said Social Security should be reformed before attaching new programs to it, and the Heritage Foundation also worried that the small number of private businesses that currently offer paid family leave would drop those policies.
But Carrie Lukas of the conservative Independent Women’s Forum said the current system makes the Social Security problem worse, because women who cannot take paid family leave often drop out of the workforce entirely, so they cease making payments into the system and have to take government assistance. The new proposal could actually result in a net increase in payments to Social Security and a decrease in the need for government assistance programs. The American Enterprise Institute has made similar points.
Two more Republican senators, Mike Lee of Utah and Joni Ernst of Florida, issued a statement saying they agree with paid family leave in principle but aren’t convinced of the Rubio-Wagner plan and will be unveiling their own plan later this year. Several other Republican senators are working in conjunction with Ivanka Trump and fellow senators to hammer out a proposal that can garner widespread support among congressional Republicans. The Washington Examiner reported that Republican senators who raised concerns were not worried so much about the Social Security premise as the plan’s clauses allowing transfer of the leave benefit to a spouse and allowing both moms and dads to take advantage of it.
Rubio is optimistic that paid family leave will continue to gain traction in the GOP, according to a quote in the Examiner, saying, “We are prepared to invest the time and energy to do it. Big reforms require that.”