By Justin Sink
President Obama argued Monday that a reform of paid leave policies was long overdue, saying many women "can't even get a paid day off to give birth."
"There is only ... one developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave, and that is us. And that is not the list you want to be on by your lonesome."
While voicing support for paid maternity leave, Obama provided no specifics on how the administration would like to see such a proposal implemented.
The White House has not formally endorsed a plan offered by congressional Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), that would provide three months of paid leave through a 0.2 percent hike of both employee and employer payroll taxes. That program would likely cost around $20 billion annually.
On Monday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the administration would "certainly support a federal law," but would also look to encourage state and private efforts to provide paid maternity leave.
"The reason that we have not put forward one specific plan is that right now there are a lot of different ways for addressing this problem," Earnest said.
"And what we want to do is we want to lift up the variety of these solutions and have a national conversation about how best to support working families as they do right by their families at home, but also continue to be highly productive workers that ensure the competitiveness of our broader economy."
Still, Obama insisted on Monday that his focus on working families wasn't political. Republicans have dismissed the daylong summit, organized by the White House and the liberal Center for American Progress, as an effort to rally female voters before the midterm elections.
Women were an influential part of the president's reelection campaign, and they backed the president by an 11-point margin over Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
"I say, no, I take this personally," Obama said in response to charges of political opportunism. "I was raised by strong women who worked hard to support my sister and me. ... And most of all, I take it personally because I am the father of two unbelievable young ladies. And I want them to be able to have families, and I want them to be able to have careers, and I want them to go as far as their dreams will take them. And I want a society that supports that."
Separately, the president announced he was ordering his administration to launch a comprehensive review of their workplace practices in a bid to improve flexibility for federal workers.
"Today I'm going to sign a presidential memorandum directing every agency in the federal government to expand access to flexible work schedules — and giving employees the right to request those flexible work schedules — because whether it's the public or the private sector, if there's a way to make our employees more productive and happier, every employer should want to find it," Obama said.
The Department of Labor will also spend $25 million on child care programs for those looking to enroll in job training for the unemployed.