Trumps' Push for Paid Parental Leave Stalls

Trumps' Push for Paid Parental Leave Stalls
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, Pool, File
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Paid family leave for new parents, proposed by the president in his 2018 budget and championed by his daughter Ivanka Trump, appears to have stalled as Congress drags its feet and other events swamp the commander-in-chief’s policy agenda.

“The United States is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not provide new mothers with paid maternity leave,” Ivanka Trump said in September 2016, immediately following the GOP nominee’s first mention of the topic on the campaign trail. “My father’s policy will give paid leave to mothers whose employers are among the almost 90 percent of U.S. businesses that currently do not offer this benefit.”

In May, in his 2018 budget, Trump called for six weeks of paid family leave for mothers and fathers after the birth or adoption of a child. The estimated $18.5 billion cost over 10 years would be funded through the unemployment insurance system and offset by reforms to the system, such as eliminating or reducing improper payments.

Including family leave in the budget was a first for a Republican administration.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a member of the Trump transition team, shares Ivanka Trump’s passion for the issue. Despite working closely with the first daughter to help craft the proposal, though, Blackburn said she had not spoken with her recently.

“I know Ivanka Trump is doing some work on it, but I don’t know what the end result is going to be,” Blackburn said, adding that Ivanka had sought “a little bit more specificity” in the measure, which would have affected roughly 1.3 million Americans. The Tennessee lawmaker said she did not know if the proposal would be in the next budget or what form it might take.

A women’s rights supporter and author of “Women Who Work,” Ivanka Trumpwas instrumental in her father’s adoption of the issue, especially during his transition to the Oval Office.

“It’s a great starting-off point to continue having conversations with Congress and people both inside and outside of government,” said a White House staff member with knowledge of the matter, adding that the president’s daughter had “done a good job of getting support” for it and that she had met with people on both sides of the aisle to help craft it.

Republicans and Democrats alike quickly rejected Trump’s budget upon its release, citing a number of objections. The paid leave benefit, if eventually embraced, would come as the first success of its kind since President Clinton’s 1993 signing of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

That plan, though, only established unpaid leave.

Trump proposed six weeks of unpaid leave, in addition to the six weeks of paid leave. Pew Research Center shows more than two-thirds of Americans support government-sponsored paid family leave, which would particularly benefit lower-income Americans who could otherwise not afford to take time off work.

A report issued Tuesday by the American Enterprise Institute and Brookings Institution, “Paid Family and Medical Leave: An Issue Whose Time Has Come,” lent additional credibility to the proposal. Calling for eight weeks of paid leave for mothers and fathers at up to $600 per week, the report makes a bipartisan case for the issue.

That report and Trump’s plan are commendable for acknowledging the importance of paid family leave, but they fall far short of what new parents need, said Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner of MomsRising, an advocacy group for women and families. 

She accused Trump of ulterior motives.

“What we’re seeing here is inadequate paid family leave policy name-checked in his budget as a smoke screen for him pushing through many other bad policies that hurt our families and our economy,” she said. “What we’re looking at is not a partisan situation because we know that Democrats and Republicans alike support [paid family leave] at sky-high levels.”

Congress, however, has not seen its way to enact any legislation.

The most recent bill to directly address paid family leave, the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act of 2017, was referred to committee in early February and has not seen action since. Other attempts, including the FAMILY Act and the Strong Families Act, were both sent to committee later in the month and have similarly lain dormant since then.

Although many other members of Congress have been vocal in their support of paid family leave – the FAMILY Act, for example, had 132 co-sponsors – disagreement has largely followed party lines. Democrats argue the benefit, currently available in five states and the District of Columbia, should be lengthened to 10 or more weeks and considered a right. Republicans counter it would be unprecedented government overreach and contribute further to America’s $19 trillion national debt.

“I think that this is one of those things that when we get ready to move forward then we’ll move forward,” said Blackburn. “What you don’t want to do is put something in place that’s going to be a barrier to entry for jobs for women, younger men, or families of childbearing age.”

But with the Senate currently considering the American Health Care Act, fired FBI Director James Comey testifying before Congress on Thursday, and developments continuing on Trump’s travel ban, reviving interest in the issue could take months, if not longer. Despite assurances that paid family leave remains Ivanka Trump’s No. 1 priority, questions remain about her ability to sway her father and lawmakers on a topic that Republicans historically have staunchly opposed.

Trump doesn’t always follow his daughter’s advice, as his recent decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement illustrated.

Earlier this week, she was described as having a “leadership role” in efforts to stop human trafficking, suggesting she is expanding her portfolio. But as an unpaid White House adviser and mother of three  – including a 1-year-old – Ivanka Trump’s remaining time in Washington is uncertain. According to several reports, she and husband Jared Kushner have not ruled out relocating back to New York and continue to evaluate their roles with what is best for their family. 

Ford Carson is an editorial intern for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at fcarson@realclearpolitics.com.

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