House Democrats put paid family leave back into bill

House Democrats have amended the enormous social spending framework at the heart of President Biden’s economic agenda to include paid family leave — a popular provision that had met resistance from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and was thought to be removed from the package.

The change was announced Wednesday morning in a letter from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who said the House Rules Committee would meet later in the day in a “hearing” to consider the changes.

But Pelosi stopped short of announcing a House Rules Committee vote on the package, which would indicate that House leaders were poised to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

Instead, the Speaker said there remain “a few” outstanding issues yet to be resolved, which would prevent the legislation from passing through the Senate in its current form. And because Pelosi has vowed not to force House lawmakers to vote on anything that can’t win 50 votes in the Senate, she’s waiting for negotiators to iron out those remaining differences before the full House will consider the bill.

“It had been my intention throughout this process to put on the House Floor and pass a bill that would pass the Senate in the same form,” Pelosi wrote.

“Because I have been informed by a Senator of opposition to a few of the priorities contained in our bill and because we must have legislation agreed to by the House and the Senate in the final version of the Build Back Better Act that we will send to the President’s desk, we must strive to find common ground in the legislation,” she wrote.

Biden had initially proposed 12 weeks of paid family leave as part of his sweeping proposal to expand social benefits and climate programs — a provision adopted by House Democrats. But Manchin had balked at the $494 billion price tag, forcing negotiators to consider a sharp reduction of the benefit — down to four weeks — before Biden slashed it altogether in the framework he unveiled last week.

Progressives had grumbled about the exclusion, but said they would accept it as a cost of enacting the other social benefits that remained in the $1.75 trillion package.

Pelosi on Wednesday, however, said paid leave would be part of the House Rules Committee’s discussion when the panel meets later Wednesday. The decision came “at the urging of many Members of the Caucus,” she said.

“Chairman Richie Neal and the Committee staff have worked on this priority for a long time and were ready,” she wrote.

The provision will provide four weeks of permanent parental and medical leave, according to a Democratic aide familiar with the language.

The change was hailed by Democrats who had fought for the benefit’s inclusion, including Neal and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), the chair of the Appropriations Committee.

“All workers deserve this,” DeLauro said in a statement. “Paid family and medical leave should be guaranteed, not left to the whims of employers.”

Yet the news seemed to come as a surprise to Manchin, who expressed his displeasure shortly after it broke.

“That’s a challenge and they know how I feel about it,” he told reporters.

The developments arrive as Democratic leaders are scrambling to wrap up an internal agreement between liberals and moderates on Biden’s top domestic policy priority. Aside from the $1.75 trillion social benefits package, Pelosi and Democratic leaders also want to adopt a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, which already passed through the Senate with broad bipartisan support.

The negotiators made significant progress Tuesday, with breakthrough agreements on efforts to curb prescription drug costs and provide a tax break to those living in high-income parts of the country. And Pelosi had suggested the text of the final package could arrive as early as Tuesday night.

The delay seems to reflect the opposition from the single, unnamed senator mentioned in Pelosi’s letter. But the Speaker is also facing another challenge: a group of House moderates is vowing to withhold their support for the “family” benefits package until the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has provided an official cost estimate — a process that could take days, if not weeks.

She is also hearing from a group of Hispanic Caucus members who are vowing to oppose any package that excludes immigration reforms, which need approval from the Senate parliamentarian.

Attempting to assuage the concerns of both camps, Pelosi said party leaders are sending legislative updates to both the CBO and the Senate “so that we can have, as soon as possible, a CBO letter, as well as comments for the Byrd bath and Privilege scrub.”

Scott Wong and Alexander Bolton contributed.

Tags Build Back Better Joe Biden Joe Manchin Nancy Pelosi Paid Family Leave Rosa DeLauro

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