The White House announced its framework for the so-called Build Back Better plan, which will include universal pre-school, home care for elderly people and people with disabilities, an extension of the child tax credit for families making up to $150,000, clean energy credits, increased credits for Obamacare and affordable housing measures.
Altogether, the measure amounts to $1.75 trillion, as well as an additional $100 billion in money for immigration reform ”consistent with the Senate’s Reconciliation Rules,” after the Senate parliamentarian initially rejected the first proposal to include immigration reform in the bill. The bill would be passed through a process called reconciliation that would allow Democrats to pass the legislation with only 51 votes and sidestep a filibuster by Republicans.
“I’m hoping there’s still a chance there, I’m disappointed,” Sen Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, told The Independent, despite the fact she was happy other provisions were included in the president’s framework.
But with only 50 Democrats in the Senate and Vice President Kamala Harris as a tiebreaker, Democrats need every Senator in their caucus on board, including conservative Democrats Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Mr Manchin has previously expressed scepticism of paid family leave.
“We’re relying on one guy who says he doesn’t want it,” Rep Pramila Jayapal of Washington, who is chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told The Independent.
Women in Congress weren’t the only members upset about the exclusion. Rep Seth Moulton, a Democrat from Massachusetts with young children, also expressed frustration.
“I certainly don’t like it, I’d like to see it in there but this is a game of compromise,” he said. “It’s a bad thing, every other developed country in the world has paid family leave. We’re behind the rest of the world, we should fix it but we also can’t expect to fix absolutely everything in this bill.”
Maya Rossin-Slater, an associate professor of health policy at Stanford University, said it was a missed opportunity to pass paid leave.
“I think the Covid pandemic laid bare both the urgent need that millions of workers have for some kind of paid leave policy and also the large, large inequities to access to paid medical leave,” she told The Independent. “On the heels of the pandemic, as we’re sort of starting to think about post-pandemic recovery, it seems like it was the opportune time to really get this legislation finally in the United States to take place.”
The exclusion of paid family leave comes as many parents have left the workforce during the coronavirus pandemic. A February study from the Minneapolis Federal Reserve from February found that the female labour force participation remains 2.8 percentage points below its November 2019 rate, whereas fathers mostly recovered their losses during the pandemic.
“If paid family leave is not in the bill that’s obviously very disappointing,” Dr Jane Waldfogel, a professor of social work at Columbia University, adding that “it may be that it was just too new of a program” to include in the bill.
Dr Waldfogel said one challenge is helping people understand that paid family leave is a federally-funded social insurance program rather than employers paying for it.
That seems to be the case on the Senate as Democrats try to convince Mr Manchin on the policy.
“I’m going to fight every minute to try and get it back in,” Sen Patty Murray, who is chairwoman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee, told The Independent.
On Wednesday evening, Ms Murray, a Democrat from Washington State, along with Sens Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Sen Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, confronted Mr Manchin on the floor of the Senate about paid family leave.
“I went through with him, the latest proposal I had specifically about parental leave, and he had questions about what they do in other countries and how other countries pay for it,” Sen Gillibrand told reporters on Thursday. “I gave him more materials on how other countries address it.”
Ms Gillibrand, herself a mother and a former Democratic presidential candidate, said some discussions are still happening among Mr Manchin and others, despite it not being included in the White House framework, but that she would like Mr Manchin’s staff and hers to get together.
“If this cannot make this particular moment in time, we will keep working on it to get paid leave done,” she said. “If we can make it work in this moment in time, amazing.”
But Ms Gillibrand said Mr Manchin is not focused on specifics since he is still invested in learning about why paid leave is important and what the framework would look like, how it would be paid for and how it has worked.
“He’s not negotiating details in any way, and not proposing any details in any way,” she said, adding that she spent time assuaging his concerns about how it would affect the Social Security trust fund.
“And so, for example, I spent a lot of time explaining how when you invest in paid leave, it shores up the trust funds because every time a parent needs paid leave for a new child, if they have paid leave, they’re 40 per cent more likely to go back, when they go back to work, they’re paying into Social Security,” she said. “One of the biggest drags on Social Security is the fact that families are having fewer and fewer children because they can’t afford children because they don’t have paid leave and they don’t have affordable day care.”
Dr Waldfogel was similarly more optimistic.
“I think Republicans, like Democrats, would be eager to show what they can do for working families, especially working women, so I think there would be some appetite among Republicans,” she said. Sen Gillibrand said she was working with Republican Sen Susan Collins of Maine on a proposal as well.
But Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York lamented the loss of paid family leave.
“Obviously, it’s disappointing, but we want to figure out what we can get done for people,” she told The Independent on her way to a meeting with the Congressional Progressive Caucus on her way out of a meeting with President Joe Biden on Thursday morning.
“Women are who got us elected and we’re going to leave them hanging in a pandemic at a time when a pandemic has been most impactful to them and their families,” Rep Sara Jacobs of California, who has spoken about freezing her eggs while serving in Congress.
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