Democrats take on Manchin, make renewed push for family leave

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) arrives for a closed-door Democratic caucus meeting on Wednesday, November 3, 2021.
Greg Nash

House Democrats on Wednesday resurrected a long-sought paid family leave proposal as part of their social spending package in defiance of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).  

Manchin, whose vote is essential for passage of the bill in the evenly divided Senate, doubled down on his opposition and insisted the social spending package is the “wrong place” for the paid leave proposal. 

But the push from House Democrats to revive paid leave is a signal that they are willing to put up a bigger fight over it, even while they’re desperately trying to nail down a deal as fast as possible.

That fight comes as Democrats are reeling from disappointing election results in Virginia and New Jersey, which has left some saying the party badly needs to deliver on campaign promises such as paid family leave.

House Democrats insisted after huddling in the Capitol basement Wednesday afternoon that they were still aiming to vote later this week on both the social spending package and the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill. 

“The reality is we need to pass both bills and that’s what we’re doing. Because this is what ultimately says to people we understand you’re in pain. I think last night’s elections were about people being in pain,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the Congressional Progressive Caucus leader.

House Democrats are hoping to ramp up pressure on Manchin to reverse his position.

“Look, I think the hope is that somebody will change Sen. Manchin’s mind and we’ll be able to include it. And because it’s such a big priority for our entire caucus and for millions of families across the country and certainly millions of women, I think the Speaker made a principled decision to just go ahead and include it and see if we can continue to do the work to get it done,” Jayapal said.

Manchin said Wednesday that he would rather enact paid family leave on a bipartisan basis, instead of in the reconciliation package.

“I want to support paid leave. I want to do it in a bipartisan way. I’ve talked to [GOP Sen.] Susan Collins. I’ve talked to colleagues on both sides. We both agree something can be done,” Manchin said.

“Let’s do that in a proper [way]. We’re trying to force it through reconciliation, which has guardrails and rules and regulations. Let’s do it and do it right,” he said.

House Democrats unveiled legislative text Wednesday that includes the four weeks of paid family leave starting in 2024. It would also lift the cap for the state and local tax deduction from $10,000 a year to $72,500 while extending the cap through 2031, and allow temporary work permits for certain immigrants.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) acknowledged “we’re still working” but added: “I hope we can bring the bills to the floor before the end of the week.”

Democrats are hoping to pass the spending plan using a process called reconciliation, which will allow them to green light the bill in the evenly split Senate with a simple majority vote, bypassing a Republican filibuster.

Still, with next to no room for any defections in either chamber, it’s clear that Democrats have a lot of work to do to get the two bills to Biden’s desk.

It’s not yet clear if the immigration provisions will pass muster with the Senate parliamentarian, who determines whether everything in the social spending package abides by the chamber’s arcane budget reconciliation rules that allow the measure to circumvent a filibuster.

Some senators are also offering opposition to lifting the cap on the state and local tax deduction, a top priority for House lawmakers representing high-tax states including New Jersey and California.

Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Wednesday floated the idea of eliminating the cap for families making around $400,000 or less, but their proposal hasn’t been finalized.

Shortly after House Democrats’ latest legislative text was posted publicly, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) said the lower chamber’s proposal “cuts taxes for millionaires and billionaires on the backs of low-income and middle-income families.” 

“We should fix this in the Senate,” Bennet added.

Some centrists, meanwhile, are urging their colleagues to slow down and hold off on bringing the social spending package to the House floor until everyone has had time to review the massive bill’s legislative text and wait for an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office.

Other centrists are also skeptical about the strategy of passing a bill that might get changed in the Senate, which is a reversal from Democratic leaders previously stating that they wouldn’t subject House members to any tough votes on provisions that don’t become law.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) expressed openness to voting for the paid family leave provision even if it doesn’t ultimately pass the Senate. And while Cuellar estimated about 95 percent of the bill will pass muster in the Senate, he acknowledged other moderates like himself will have to consider the overall calculus of what isn’t likely to survive in the upper chamber.

“So the question is, will that 5 percent be something that will be troubling to a lot of us?” Cuellar said. “Personally, I want to see some sort of paid family leave.”

Democrats have spent weeks trimming down what was initially a $3.5 trillion social and climate spending plan to nearly half that amount after pushback from moderates concerned with the overall costs. 

The reignited push by House Democrats to put the proposal back in the spending plan, despite Manchin’s resistance, comes as multiple exit polls from Virginia’s race showed Republican Glenn Younkin drastically outperformed Democrat Terry McAuliffe among white women who don’t have college degrees. 

Asked Wednesday about how Democrats plan to get the plan through the Senate, where Manchin’s vote will be key for passage, House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), a top proponent of paid family and medical leave, said: “Well, we will see.”

Naomi Jagoda contributed.

Tags Bernie Sanders Bob Menendez Build Back Better Climate change Infrastructure Joe Manchin Michael Bennet Paid Family Leave Pramila Jayapal Rosa DeLauro Steny Hoyer Susan Collins Terry McAuliffe

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