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Parental Leave is Becoming Washington’s One Non-Partisan Issue

The American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institute, two think tanks that rarely agree on anything, are coming together to support leave policies.

The result of an unprecedented collaboration between the Brooking Institute and the American Enterprise Institute, the Crips and Bloods of D.C. think tanks, is a strong bipartisan proposal for new parental leave laws based on both the Democratic and Republican agendas. The report, co-authored by staff from the neoliberal and free-market strongholds, presents parental leave and, in particular, paternity leave, as a potential area of consensus.

It’s important to note that the report is not an endorsement of President’s Trump’s parental leave plan, which he broadcast during his campaign and has credited his daughter Ivanka with architecting. That plan is one of the four from both sides of the aisle that were examined by the institutes’ working group. While all four plans have their good and bad, the report suggests the Trump plan is notable for a potential to inadvertently encourage discriminatory hiring practices and it’s lack of gender equality. Both of those issues, the think tanks argues, are crucial in setting up a good leave policy that is a compromise between conservative and progressive interests.

In a discussion of that compromise, the institutes found five key areas where common ground can be attained. The big one? Any plan must be budget neutral. The working group suggests that given the benefits of a leave program for employees, a modest increase in payroll taxes would not be unreasonable. But they also note the size of that tax would have to be fairly minimal as to not place too much of a burden on the poor. They suggest covering the additional costs of leave programs through government budget cuts.

The working group also suggests that affordability can be buoyed by setting distinct boundaries for those taking leave. “It would keep the benefits relatively targeted and inexpensive by offering a 70 percent replacement rate up to a cap of $600 per week, for a limited number of weeks (e.g., eight weeks),” the study authors suggest.

The rest of the requirements for compromise are less fiscal and more social. The working group urges any plan to be gender neutral, offering any parent a chance to stay at home with new babies. They also point out that any plan would need to have protections in place for any unintended consequences of new policy, including discrimination against hiring women who are pregnant and men who are expecting. Finally, they note it should be viable for all workers, making sure that the middle class can benefit from the leave policy as much as poor families.

The authors note that the compromise plan is “not as everyone’s preferred policy,” but they stress that, as a compromise, it’s something both conservative and liberals would likely be willing to support. That sounds plausible coming from the Brookings and Enterprise institutes, which often produce research justifying division, not agreement.