Senate

Democrats try to back Manchin off killing paid family leave proposal

Democratic senators launched a furious effort on the Senate floor Wednesday to back centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) off his opposition to a national paid family leave program, which sources said was going to be cut from the budget reconciliation package.

Senate Health Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D), a leading proponent of paid family leave, cornered Manchin on the Senate floor to get him to change his mind - and they refused to take no for an answer. 

Murray insisted that paid family leave is still in the package, disputing reports that negotiators were going to ax the proposal, and said Manchin promised to keep an open mind.

"It's not out," she said, recounting her conversation with Manchin. "He said he will keep an open mind. He is not a no." 

Democratic senators until last week have mostly let Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and senior White House officials spearhead the negotiations with Manchin.

But at Wednesday afternoon's vote, Murray and Gillibrand were giving Manchin the full "Johnson treatment," the type of in-your-face persuasion effort that former Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Baines Johnson (D-Texas) made famous during his legendary stint as leader. 

Manchin told reporters as he was leaving the Capitol Wednesday that "we should be examining all this stuff."

But he warned that jamming a paid-leave program in a budget reconciliation package, such as the one under discussion, "is not the way to do it." 

"We have to be careful what we're doing. If we're going to do it, do it right," he added. 

Murray explained the proposal will be modified to provide four weeks of paid family leave for workers who become new parents and who already have a year on the job.

"He said he would think about it, he's got an open mind," she said of Manchin's possible support for the overhauled proposal. 

But Murray acknowledged the latest version has been substantially modified from "our original vision." 

Gillibrand initially proposed 12 weeks of paid family leave that would be administered by the Treasury Department or the Social Security Administration that would cover two-thirds of a worker's wages up to $4,000 a month.

Democrats earlier this year envisioned the proposal would cost about $225 billion over ten years and would be paid for with higher taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals.

Now Democrats are talking about a program, likely administered by employers, where workers would pay into a family leave fund that they would use after becoming a new mother or father.

"It would be significant in our country to have four weeks paid medical leave. The issue is to talk about the fact that when people go back to work they pay into this. This is not a social program, per se. This is people contributing to paid leave when they're working," Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said.

A Democratic senator familiar with the negotiations said Gillibrand and Murray are proposing changing it back to the original proposal Gillibrand pushed before Democrats took control of the White House and Senate and embarked on what they hoped would be a Rooseveltian transformation of federal spending. 

Gillibrand originally proposed paying for the benefit with a 0.2 percent tax on worker's wages, which employers and employees would split. 

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