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Paid Leave Advocates Say Bipartisan Path not Feasible

December 1, 2021 by Reece Nations
Paid Leave Advocates Say Bipartisan Path not Feasible
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., chairs a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — Advocates for the passage of paid family and medical leave into law are pushing the policy as a solution to what could be a difficult 2022 midterm election for Democrats.

Provisions for paid leave were included in the Build Back Better framework that passed the House of Representatives earlier this month, but they face uncertainty in the upper chamber over the objections of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. Supporters for paid leave policy took to the Capitol on Nov. 2 to rally for its inclusion in the bill after it had briefly been removed from the social spending bill.

Dawn Huckelbridge, director of the Hopewell Fund’s Paid Leave for All, said during a policy briefing on Tuesday the policy is one that would touch every working family in the country because of its impact on job retention for both workers and small businesses. Many families saw firsthand during the pandemic what the benefits of paid leave entail, and she said it would be a mistake of both politics and policy if it were cut out prior to the Build Back Better Act’s passage in the Senate.

“It is an issue of equity, and paid leave is an issue that unites us in a moment when families across America want to believe in the power of government to help their lives,” Huckelbridge said. “When families, women and caregivers in particular are still at breaking points, paid leave would be a powerful legacy and should be, must be a cornerstone to any plan to build back better.”

Manchin, who represents one of two crucial centrist votes in the Senate, has made it clear in the past that he objects to the policy’s inclusion in the party-line spending package. Republicans substantially weakened the proposal as part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act by stripping out personal medical leave and family caregiving leave and later failing to agree to extend requirements guaranteeing paid leave to frontline workers.

Vicki Shabo, senior fellow for paid leave policy and strategy at the New America think tank, said finding a bipartisan route for paid leave’s inclusion in the bill is unrealistic in light of this history. Despite Republicans’ shift towards the policy in recent years Shabo said the party is still unwilling to address paid leave in a comprehensive way.

“Sen. Manchin says he wants to find a bipartisan pathway, and we welcome the fact that he has said paid family medical leave is an important issue and he wants to address it,” Shabo said during the briefing. “But saying that he wants a bipartisan pathway is as good as saying paid leave won’t happen anytime soon, that it’s not important. Anyone who says we can wait, that we should work in a bipartisan way, that we’re going to keep trying — whether [it is] the administration or … Manchin or any other leader — I’m afraid is not being realistic.”

Joey Teitelbaum, lead researcher on battleground polling for Global Strategy Group, said the paid leave issue could motivate otherwise disinterested voters going into the 2022 elections. Polling statistics indicate that Democrats who support paid leave fare better in battleground states.

Considering 60% of voters in critical battleground states and 62% of suburban women indicate paid leave is highly important and cannot wait, Democrats could improve their chances of maintaining Senate and House majorities by doubling down and passing the full policy without help from their Republican colleagues.

“This is a way that we can both persuade and motivate,” Teitelbaum said. “[Paid leave] stands up even in the face of attacks — and that is not always true of policies. You will often get polls that tell you there’s a lot of support. But the question is, ‘Does that support hold up even when we attack it?’ And 57% of voters [indicate they] continue to support paid leave because they understand it will help our economy and it will help them even in the face of an argument that says it is irresponsible, and falsely claims that it would raise taxes.”

Teitelbaum continued, “So this is not just good policy that ranks above and beyond so many other things that are getting inclusion, it is also a really, really strong play for Democrats to be making as they head into a tough midterm cycle.” 

Reece can be reached at reece@thewellnews.com.

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