After her father’s election, Ivanka Trump strongly advocated for paid family leave on Capitol Hill, but as her initial efforts failed and her husband, Jared Kushner, became a clear focus of the Mueller inquiry, she moved into a behind-the-scenes role. With her went the subject of paid family leave. But, in the wake of the State of the Union and roughly 1.5 government shutdowns, that seems to be changing. Reports from Politico and the Washington Post indicate that the administration and Ivanka are working with Senator Marco Rubio on a paid family leave solution — albeit one that’s likely to make a non-partisan issue controversial.
During his State of the Union address, President Trump squeezed in a few words in support of paid leave, making it clear to pols in his party that he was looking for leadership. “As tax cuts create new jobs, let us invest in workforce development and job training,” he said. “Let us open great vocational schools so our future workers can learn a craft and realize their full potential. And let us support working families by supporting paid family leave.” This may have been one of the few lines in the speech to elicit a clap from a Democrats.
For Republicans, that represents something of a problem. The party, which recently cut corporate tax rates significantly, is generally associated with family-first messaging, but not in regards to labor laws. “We still have to work on members of my own party,” Rubio said recently in an interview with Politico. “I think there will be significant initial resistance to it because it’s just not an issue that’s been identified with the Republican Party.”
Paid leave is, however, a very popular idea in Democratic circles. Not that popularity has helped make it a reality. America’s paid leave laws lag behind pretty much every other country in the developed world. And the solutions to this problem, now recognized on a bipartisan basis, are potentially myriad. At a time when legislators struggle to keep the government open, that’s not a good thing. More choices make more disagreements inevitable.
Disagreement will be inevitable if Rubio moves forward with the idea of using social security to pay for family leave. In this proposed system, a person paying into social security in need of family leave would proportionally delay their ability to collect social security checks after their 67th birthday. So four weeks of paid leave would mean a four-week delay in social security benefit collection. It’s a simple idea, a practical idea, and an idea that asks for extraordinary little of American businesses. It’s also at odds with the White House’s previous stance.
While drafting the government budget last year, Donald Trump wanted to include a six-week paid leave plan that would be covered by unemployment insurance programs, but congressional Republicans were uninterested. Instead, Congress opted to offer tax credits to companies who voluntarily provide employees with paid family leave — a minor bit of progress that doesn’t necessarily help employees at very small companies.
The resurgence of interest in paid leave comes as the Family Medical Leave Act celebrates 25 years of guaranteeing at least some maternity leave and roughly 10 years of falling increasingly behind policy solutions enacted in other countries. With Rubio himself worried about the sustainability of a Social Security-centric solution, it seems like a better paid leave program might be a ways off. Still, it’s a conversation again.