Opinion The GOP debate over family-friendly laws

06:31  05 march  2021
06:31  05 march  2021 Source:   washingtonexaminer.com

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When Meghan McCain gave birth to Liberty, her daughter with husband Ben Domenech, she felt grateful for family, the medical care she received while battling postnatal preeclampsia, and, as she shared on ABC’s The View, the paid maternity leave her company offered. However, when she returned to The View, she shared with the audience and the rest of the co-hosts that she was not just thankful, she was also angry — angry that more conservatives have not supported paid maternity leave like the kind she had just experienced.

a man sitting on a table: Many conservatives and liberals agree that a mandated leave plan for federal workers makes sense. After all, the government is their employer. The rub is really about the private sector. © Provided by Washington Examiner Many conservatives and liberals agree that a mandated leave plan for federal workers makes sense. After all, the government is their employer. The rub is really about the private sector.

“Everything about our ideology sort of stems from the nucleus of the family, that we are leaving women in this country without the capacity and ability unless you have an employer that allows you to, to take care of your child, to heal physically, which is something that needs to happen,” McCain said, calling the lack of nationwide, mandatory, paid maternity leave “a dark spot” that leaders need to resolve if “we are going to give women and families the capacity to grow in the way we want.”

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McCain is correct that the United States is an outlier. Whether the optics look as unfortunate as she describes may be up to whom you ask: America is the only industrialized country without a national, mandated maternity or paid family leave program for all workers, private and federal. In December 2019, President Donald Trump approved a plan for federal paid parental leave. He said in his State of the Union address that year that he was “proud to be the first president to include in my budget a plan for nationwide paid family leave — so that every new parent has the chance to bond with their newborn child.” At the end of January this year, House Democrats proposed a bill that would expand paid leave for federal employees, providing them with the opportunity to care for themselves or a loved one, including family members going on or returning from active military duty.

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Many conservatives and liberals agree that a mandated leave plan for federal workers makes sense. After all, the government is their employer. The rub is really about the private sector: Should the government force a similar provision on all private companies? Right-leaning economists, policymakers, and politicians often suggest there are ideological and logistical conflicts at play, the first of which is finding and disseminating accurate information on the issue.

A Forbes columnist posited in 2020 that 80% of the public supports national, mandated “paid family and medical leave,” but only 20% have it. According to a 2019 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17% of workers have access to a paid leave program. However, Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, told me, “This number is highly misleading, since it severely underestimates the actual number of workers who benefit from paid leave,” she said. “The Bureau of Labor Statistics survey methods require paid leave to exist separately from ‘ sick leave, vacation, personal leave or short-term disability leave that is available to the employee.’ Proper accounting, which uses several government surveys about workers’ benefits, reveals that a majority of workers have access to paid family leave benefits, and 3 out of 4 who take leave in a given year get full or partial pay.”

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She told the Washington Examiner that data show as many as 65% of workers in the private sector have access to paid family leave in some form.

McCain is correct that most Democrats overwhelmingly support a national, mandated paid leave program for the private sector, not just federal employees, and that Republicans rarely, if ever, do. This is often because the numbers don’t add up to any semblance of fiscal responsibility when it comes to private employers.

“Until recently, conservatives understood that the private sector is a better actor in providing these types of benefits. Government provision creates unseen distortions, above and beyond the cost of the federal budget,” de Rugy told me. “We do not have a national system, but we have a flexible private network that actually provides paid leave for employees that is better suited to employees and employers. ... There’s never any free lunch — that’s a thing people tend to not understand. It’s always at the expense of something. Often, it’s in the reduction of the growth of wages.”

Some Republicans differ with her assessment. While Republican legislators remain uninterested in mandating a national paid parental leave program, they have attempted to address the issue in other ways. In March 2019, with a unified Republican government in play, U.S. Sens. Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio introduced the New Parents Act, “legislation that would create a voluntary option for paid parental leave by allowing parents to use a portion of their Social Security after the birth or adoption of a child.” Republican Reps. Ann Wagner and Dan Crenshaw authored companion legislation in the House. It seemed like the best of both worlds: a paid leave program that wasn’t mandated and wouldn’t come out of employers’ pockets. Still, the bill couldn’t get any traction and died in committee.

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Just after Joe Biden won the presidential election, Romney introduced a different family-friendly provision, this time not exactly a paid family leave program but a bill he hopes will provide much-needed aid to lower-income families by ending the deduction of state and local taxes. The “Family Security Act” provides parents with a child allowance of sorts, excluding very high-earning households, and, at $66 billion annually, is expensive. A bevy of respected pundits like it, such as Ross Douthat, Ramesh Ponnuru, and Lyman Stone, to name a few. At National Review, Yuval Levin said, “As far as I can see, Romney’s proposal does a better job of fixing some (unintentional but meaningful) disincentives to marriage in the existing welfare and work-support system than any prior attempt to do so, and it manages that with relatively little disincentive to work.” At Forbes, Adam Millsap, a senior fellow for economic opportunity issues at Stand Together and the Charles Koch Institute, called the plan “a step in the right direction” that “moves the social safety net in the right direction by replacing counterproductive programs with an approach that empowers families.”

Yet not everyone thinks Romney’s plan is good, even working mothers. “There are better ways to help American families, such as reducing tax burdens for all Americans and giving parents a choice in their children’s education, than through a massive expansion in the welfare state, including to wealthy Americans,” Rachel Greszler told me. She’s a research fellow in economics, budgets, and entitlements at the Heritage Foundation and a mother of six.

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If Romney’s provision gains traction and ultimately passes, it could be a partial Band-Aid to Republicans' festering public relations wound from opposing a national, mandated paid family leave program. Or it could leave a gaping hole for the private sector to fill. If Republicans could communicate about either better, it might shift the conversation in their favor.

“One of the biggest fallacies is that a government-run program will help people,” Greszler said. “They are bureaucratic. You have to fill out all this paperwork. It’s just this lengthy process. Most workers would rather shoot an email to their boss. Tell them they are pregnant or whatever they need leave for, and to just be able to talk directly and likely be able to come up with some leave. …That’s not possible with one-size-fits-all federal mandates or programs.”

Greszler says there is actually little evidence that a nationally mandated paid parental leave program has functioned well in other countries, either. She noted that the programs in Sweden and elsewhere are “regressive” and only available for middle- and upper-income earners. She suggested that Republicans, and ideally Democrats, hold the line in proposing any kind of national mandate for private companies to provide paid family leave and instead encourages them to continue to empower businesses through tax cuts and fewer regulations.

Republicans' hesitation in the face of a nationally mandated paid parental leave program doesn’t mean they’re against paid family leave entirely: They just differ in practical terms about who should provide it and how. As a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, employers saw a reduction in tax rates and regulations that freed up resources. Greszler says employer surveys showed one of the things workers wanted most was paid family leave. “You saw dozens, if not hundreds, of companies offer new and expanded paid family leave programs. Now, the top 30 companies in the U.S., companies that are employing lower- to middle-income workers, such as Target, Starbucks, Walmart, Lowe's, Home Depot, and Chipotle, all offer paid family leave,” she explained. Greszler says politicians should count on this example as an incentive to stay away from a nationally mandated paid family leave program. “Whatever you can do to let businesses run their businesses how they see fit and to not pay excessive taxes, they’re going to come up with things to keep their workers happy.”

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Nicole Russell (@russell_nm) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog.

Tags: paid family leave, paid leave, Healthcare, Worker Benefits, Parenting, Government, Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, Meghan McCain, Congress, Joe Biden, Business, GOP, Republican Party, Conservatives

Original Author: Nicole Russell

Original Location: The GOP debate over family-friendly laws

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