Spotlight Exclusives

A Bipartisan Call for Paid Leave

Spotlight Staff Spotlight Staff, posted on

The AEI-Brookings Working Group on Paid Family Leave released its initial report Tuesday, a compromise plan for federal paid parental leave that the panel said proved that a bipartisan agreement on the issue is possible, even in a bitterly divided Washington.

Aparna Mathur, resident scholar at AEI and the group’s co-director, said the group initially struggled and disagreed, but ultimately coalesced around both a bare bones proposal and the conviction that paid leave is an issue whose time has come.

“There wasn’t some magic number, parameter or framework,” Mathur said. “But there also was absolutely no disagreement that America needs to push forward on a paid leave policy.”

The panel’s other co-director, Isabel Sawhill of Brookings, acknowledged that the compromise plan was difficult to strike, but well worth the effort. “Nobody liked it entirely, but we did think it was important in these very contentious times when people don’t agree on a lot to see if our group could come together around a common plan.”

The group could only find agreement on parental leave but intends to keep working in the hopes of expanding the policy to include family and medical leave.

The parental leave plan’s major features include:

  • No employer mandate
  • Equal benefits for working parents
  • Job protection
  • Eight weeks of parental leave with 70 percent wage replacement
  • A cap on benefits of $600 per week
  • Financing from social insurance taxes that would be offset by benefit cuts elsewhere, except to programs that benefit low-income Americans

“None of us found this compromise entirely to our liking,” states the report’s executive summary. “A majority of the group would have supported something more generous. A minority wanted to limit any new benefit to something like $300 a week and to make it available to low-income families only. But in these partisan times, we felt an obligation to work toward a compromise that all of us could support to some extent. We believed this was better than doing nothing when the U.S. is the only developed nation without a national paid leave policy.”

Many of the scholars, economists, and analysts who discussed the proposal Tuesday were optimistic that some kind of paid leave plan could find bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.

Conservative economist and political commentator Abby McCloskey said the Trump administration’s recent paid leave proposal had changed the dynamic on the issue for many Republicans.

“The Trump plan is a new paradigm, particularly for conservatives,” said McCloskey. “Does that mean it passes this year? I have no idea. I do think there’s more reason to be encouraged than discouraged.”

Progressive scholar and analyst Jane Waldfogel said that it was quite significant that the working group was in unanimous agreement that some kind of paid leave policy needs to be enacted. “Our discussions were not if, but what kind of policy we ought to have,” she said. “This is a game-changer here and it’s reflecting the public consensus out there . . . I’m optimistic.”

Sawhill said that she and Mathur had briefed Ivanka Trump on the policy on Monday and the president’s daughter and White House aide also sent a representative to the unveiling of the proposal at AEI on Tuesday.

“We have a very powerful advocate in the White House and her name is Ivanka Trump,” Sawhill said. “We met with her yesterday and she is very, very committed to this politically and very open-minded about what it would look like.”

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