Passing the Biden administration's proposal for 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave could amount to little more than a PR win if Democrats persist in pushing the bill into law through the reconciliation process, instead of compromising with GOP colleagues to affect more binding legislation.
Politico reported on Monday that it's increasingly unlikely Democrats can persuade enough Republicans to pass the bill — in its current form — through the normal legislative process and will likely seek to pass it through budget reconciliation, which permits spending-related legislation to pass with a simple majority instead of the 60 votes normally needed in the Senate. The Senate is split 50-50 along party lines with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote.
Budget reconciliation, however, forbids policy-related provisions that are considered extraneous to the budget, and the process would likely prevent congressmen from enacting accompanying job protections. That means anyone looking to use the paid leave — who isn't already covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 — would have no guarantee of a job when they return.
Republicans say the Biden proposal would cost too much — the Washington Post reported that the new program would even be available to millions of workers with privately financed leave programs — and is too rigid. The GOP, which two years ago tried to pass its own family leave legislation amid a divided Congress, favors more flexibility and an approach targeted at those who specifically need it, as opposed to eligibility for all Americans.
FMLA, which grants qualifying workers 12 weeks of unpaid family and medical leave and mandates that employers reinstate them after, does not currently apply to some 40% of the workforce, and those left out would almost assuredly be the ones most in need of the guarantee, according to Politico.
"The concern is, who are the people that would fear retaliation if they tried to take the leave?" said Kathleen Romig, a senior policy analysis at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "And that is really inequitable."
Despite reservations over whether those most in need could even take advantage of a new law, many Democrats say they are comfortable moving ahead without Republicans, due to overwhelming support for paid family and medical leave among the public.
"We’re not going to sit around and waste the next two years negotiating with a brick wall," said House Education and Labor Chair Bobby Scott, whose committee has jurisdiction over the job protection policy. Budget reconciliation "doesn’t have to be the answer, but the Senate right now could not produce a single Republican vote on a measure" that a majority of Americans back.
The National Partnership for Women and Families, as well as several other advocacy organizations, are working with the White House to "figure out a way to make sure that people’s jobs are protected when they take leave," said Michelle McGrain, who is the group’s director of congressional relations and economic justice.
"People with multiple part-time jobs, people who lose their job and then find employment somewhere else, people who work for small businesses - none of those people are included," she said. "And that includes a lot of gig workers, workers in these newer, untraditional environments."
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