President Obama’s plea to ensure paid leave for all workers is falling flat with Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Republicans didn’t join in the applause when Obama told Congress in his State of the Union address to “send me a bill” mandating paid sick leave or paid maternity leave for all workers. Obama argued paid leave is “not a nice-to-have — it’s a must-have.”
Polling suggests that the public strongly supports the idea. A survey from the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling after the State of the Union address found that 66 percent of respondents support paid sick leave, while 22 percent oppose it.
But Republicans scoff at suggestions that other countries, like in Europe, provide paid sick leave and haven’t suffered significant economic consequences.
“I never thought that emulating the European economic model is good for America,” laughed Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.).
The main reason business-minded Republicans oppose government-mandated paid leave is that not all businesses would be equally equipped to cover the costs, they say.
“I certainly encourage employers to provide paid family leave, but not all employers are the same. Some are better positioned to do so than others. It’s that simple,” Dent said.
GOP lawmakers further warn that a federal mandate for paid sick leave wouldn’t work for all companies. House Small Business Committee Chairman Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) argued that companies don’t need another federal mandate.
“The American families going without paid sick leave or maternity care do so because Washington makes our small businesses choose between providing those benefits or paying the price of overregulation and higher taxes,” Chabot said in a statement. “We won’t make those jobs any more secure by handing employers another federal mandate, we’ll make them better and more stable by reducing the uncertainty and frustration that happens when Washington is in the way.”
Business groups argue that a national mandate ignores the realities of small-business owners. National Federation of Independent Businesses spokesman Jack Mozloom acknowledged the proposal has “sentimental” appeal, but he said it would’t work for small businesses the same way as for large corporations that can afford paid leave.
Mozloom noted that a company that has to hire a temp or give another worker overtime pay — in addition to paid leave for a sick worker — would incur twice as many costs.
“You’re paying twice for the same labor. So it sort of amplifies that loss,” Mozloom said.
Eligible workers are allowed to take up to 12 weeks off for illnesses or a new baby and ensure they’ll still have their jobs under the Family and Medical Leave Act. But the time off is usually unpaid.
Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerTrump, GOP fumble chance to govern ObamaCare gets new lease on life Ryan picks party over country by pushing healthcare bill MORE (R-Ohio) was among the 134 Republicans to vote against the law when it passed, in 1993. He warned at the time that the law would have devastating consequences.
“America’s business owners are a resilient bunch, but let there be no doubt, H.R. 1 will be the demise of some. And as that occurs, the light of freedom will grow dimmer,” BoehnerJohn BoehnerTrump, GOP fumble chance to govern ObamaCare gets new lease on life Ryan picks party over country by pushing healthcare bill MORE said.
Still, there could be room for compromise between Republicans and Obama. Rep. Martha RobyMartha RobyThe Hill's Whip List: 36 GOP no votes on ObamaCare repeal plan A guide to the committees: House Scandal complicates replacing Jeff Sessions MORE (R-Ala.) re-introduced a bill Wednesday that would permit all workers to use their overtime toward paid time off. Government workers are already able to do so.
Roby announced the bill’s introduction at a House GOP leadership press conference Wednesday morning. Leadership generally does not invite a lawmaker to speak first at the weekly press conference about a bill without the intention of eventually endorsing it.
“We couldn’t agree with him more that we need to be helping working moms and dads,” Roby said of the president. “So he has the right goal, he just has the wrong approach. More mandates on the workforce is not the way to go.”
Leadership has yet to decide if or when the legislation would go to committee or the House floor.
Democrats, for their part, aren’t entirely surprised that the GOP isn’t springing to endorse Obama’s wish list.
“Anything the president proposes, as you have seen, for whatever reason they decide to obstruct,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).
Lydia Wheeler contributed.