Democrats are scrambling to find a way to put some kind of national paid leave program in their Build Back Better budget bill, but it might mean leaving out protections for those who are sick themselves or caring for sick family members.
Faced with opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Democrats are discussing a much narrower proposal that would only cover new parents, according to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).
Shaheen said on Wednesday that her understanding is that the proposal would offer 12 weeks of paid leave for new parents. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y), who is spearheading this last-ditch push to keep paid leave in the bill, has refused to comment on compromise proposals to bring Manchin on board. Gillibrand’s office did not return HuffPost’s request for comment.
“It’s more limited. It’s parental leave, so it would be 12 weeks for parents in the case of the birth of a child,” Shaheen said.
That would mean leaving out paid leave protections for workers experiencing medical emergencies, or those caring for sick family members.
Negotiations are still very much in flux, however. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told reporters that there many versions of the proposal out there and that the policy is still under discussion. Plus, she said, paid leave is still at risk of being cut from Democrats’ final bill all together.
“It’s not looking good,” Warren said. “This may be one that’s in real trouble.”
Paid leave has been on increasingly shaky ground in recent days because of opposition from Manchin, who has privately expressed concerns about fraud in the program, and has been very vocal about his concerns about the overall cost of the Build Back Better package.
The United States is the only industrialized country in the world that does not mandate some kind of paid leave and instead relies on the voluntary actions of individual companies and states to support workers who need to take leave from their jobs. The United States does require that companies offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave.
Democrats are trying to pass a sweeping budget bill that would include major climate policies and tax reforms and would invest heavily in social welfare, like child care, housing and health care expansions. With such narrow majorities in the House and Senate, they need all 50 senators to sign on to the final bill, and close to unanimous Democratic support in the House.
Passing the first paid family and medical leave program in the United States was supposed to be among Democrats’ crowning achievements.
Biden’s original proposal was a national paid leave program with partial wage replacement that would phase in 12 weeks of paid leave over the course of 10 years. The House, led by Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), separately put together a roughly $500 billion private-public proposal to provide 12 weeks of paid leave for Americans to care for a new child or a sick loved one, or to deal with a family death or the deployment of a military spouse.
Last week, when Manchin clarified some of his concerns about spending, Democrats suggested a substantially smaller and temporary plan that would afford workers roughly four weeks of paid leave.
“It doesn’t make sense to me. … I just can’t do it,” Manchin told CNN on Wednesday when asked about the paid leave proposal, citing its impact on the debt.
Paid leave is an incredibly popular proposal nationally; 73% of Americans support paid family and medical leave, according to a recent CBS News poll. The need for such a policy became all the more apparent during the pandemic, when many workers were forced to choose between coming to work sick or leaving a sick family member unattended, and losing their incomes.
Congress put in place a short-lived federal paid leave mandate during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. When that policy expired, it was followed by some financial incentives for companies to voluntarily offer paid time off to sick workers.