NEW YORK (THE HILL): Democrats risk disappointing female voters by cutting out a major expansion of paid family and medical leave from a compromise social policy bill.
President Biden campaigned on extending paid leave to working women and men and initially proposed 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave as part of his sweeping domestic agenda.
But the proposal was whittled down to four weeks and eventually cut entirely from the package because of opposition from centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
Advocates see the development as a major setback, particularly as women face more difficulty reentering the workforce as the nation claws its way out of the pandemic-induced economic crisis.
Female voters will be critical to Democratic hopes in the midterm elections and some see a risk that cutting out the provision could dampen support. “It’s such an unforced error,” said Democratic strategist Christy Setzer. “Like universal pre-K, the genius of paid leave is that it’s easy to understand and makes a tremendous difference in our lives. Whether you get employer-paid leave or not, every woman with children remembers the anxiety around revealing their pregnancy at work, and the scramble to find childcare while your body recovers. “I don’t know that voters will punish Dems for not getting this done — it’s hard to miss what you’ve never had — but man, what a missed opportunity,” Setzer added. “Just think if we’d gotten universal pre-K, paid leave and childcare over the line. Women would be lined up around the block to evangelize about it.”
Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, also said leaving out paid family leave qualified as a risk for Democrats. She said “women, when they voted in the last election, were voting for people who they thought were going to fight for paid leave.”
An Oct. 27 memo from Democratic polling firm Lake Research Partners commissioned by the National Partnership called paid leave a “crucial component” of Biden’s plan because of its popularity. It cites polling showing that 87 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of Independents and 43 percent of Republicans favor paid leave.
Democrats insist that the compromise package unveiled by Biden will still be transformative for American families even without the paid leave provision. No Republicans have vocalized support for paid leave and Democrats intend to pass the package without GOP support through budget reconciliation, meaning they need each Democratic senator on board.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a major proponent of paid leave, appeared exasperated when she addressed the elimination of the program on Thursday but said it wouldn’t detract from the rest of the package. “I’m still fighting for paid leave. I frankly have a hard time debating it because I don’t understand why we wouldn’t have that. But nonetheless, that does not undermine the fact that we have nearly a trillion dollars in universal pre-K, child care, child tax credit, home health care, and the rest,” Pelosi told reporters during a news conference. “One program, as important as it is, does not subtract from the rest of it.”
Pelosi also dinged Manchin, noting that he voted in favor of a defense policy bill that included paid leave for federal employees during the Trump administration. Some advocates are holding out hope that the measure could still be inserted back in the package.
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