Senate committee debates federal paid leave policies

D.C. Bureau

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Paid leave continues to take center stage on Capitol Hill.

The U.S. remains the only developed country in the world to not guarantee the benefits.

On Tuesday, the Senate Health Committee debated what a federal policy should look like.

“It’s far past time we make paid leave a right for all, not a privilege for some,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-WA, the committee chair.

“This is fascinating because nobody’s opposed to family leave,” said Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC, the ranking member.

Lawmakers in both parties want workers to have paid time off to care for a newborn or loved one, but they don’t agree on how to secure that benefit.

“I’m going to do everything I can to get the paid leave policy President Biden proposed in the American Families Plan across the finish line,” Murray said.

The president’s national program that would guarantee 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave within ten years, primarily by increasing taxes on the wealthy.

“Washington needs to pay for it with tax credits, subsidies, grants, at least for small business,” argued Burr.  

Burr worries a federal, one-size-fits-all mandate would be too expensive and end up costing jobs.

“We should make sure we give business the flexibility to help employers make paid leave work,” he said.

About ten states currently fund their own paid leave programs in a different way: through payroll taxes.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-LA, worries how companies will respond if Congress passed a similar national policy.

“That would just allow them to offload their obligation upon the federal taxpayers,” Cassidy said.

However, Vicki Shabo, a paid leave policy expert at New America, argues that funding proposal benefits the employer and worker by keeping people in jobs. “If we were to finance through payroll taxes, it would be a small cost for a big value,” Shabo said.

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