Spotlight Exclusives

Cassidy Plans to Introduce Bipartisan Paid Leave Bill in Senate

Spotlight Staff Spotlight Staff, posted on

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said Wednesday that he plans to introduce a paid leave proposal with Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema as a Democratic co-sponsor, marking the Senate’s first bipartisan bill on a topic that’s attracting growing legislative activity across the nation.

“Paid leave is having its moment,” said Aparna Mathur, a resident scholar on economics at the American Enterprise Institute, which hosted the discussion with Cassidy. “It seems that in Congress there is a huge impetus to get moving and do something that’s fiscally responsible but also provides the benefits that American families need.” Mathur is also a co-director of the AEI/Brookings Institution Project on Paid Leave.

Cassidy shared few specifics about the bill, including how the benefit would be paid for. “I want to get consensus with my collaborators first,” Cassidy said. “I’d rather keep my powder dry.” He seemed to be leaning toward a bill that would focus on just parental leave, rather than also tackle family and medical leave.

“Let’s not say, ‘My gosh, we can’t take care of everything so let’s not do anything,’“ Cassidy said.

A Cassidy-Sinema bill would join a number of other paid leave-focused proposals released in recent weeks and months:

  • Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Mitt Romney (Utah) released a “New Parents” bill last week that would allow people to pull forward Social Security benefits to use for paid leave. Republican Reps. Ann Wagner (Mo.) and Dan Crenshaw (Texas) offered similar legislation in the House.
  • Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) have reintroduced their “Family Act” which would use a 0.2 percent payroll tax to fund three months of paid leave for parental, family, or medical leave.
  • Republican Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Mike Lee (Utah) have put forward the “Cradle Act” that would allow parents to receive up to three months of paid parental leave by postponing activating their Social Security benefits.

Cassidy’s comments were followed by a panel discussion featuring members of the AEI-Brookings Paid Leave Task Force. While differing on how the benefit should be structured, how expansive it should be, and how it should be paid for, the group said the mere presence of a bipartisan bill signaled a major step forward.

“A lot of what I heard from the senator was very encouraging,” said Harry Holzer, a nonresident senior fellow in Economic Studies at Brookings and professor at Georgetown University.

“I’m very, very encouraged that they are talking about a bipartisan effort in the Senate,” said Isabel Sawhill, also a senior fellow in Economic Studies at Brookings and the co-director of the Paid Leave Task Force. “That is huge.”

Sawhill and Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum, agreed that while there are wide differences on how to pay for a paid leave benefit, there’s unanimous agreement that a funding mechanism must be found.

“I don’t think anybody believes that paid leave can pay for itself,” Sawhill said. We are all talking about how to do we pay for this and that’s a positive point.”

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