GOP senators unveil paid parental leave proposal

GOP senators unveil paid parental leave proposal
© Stefani Reynolds

GOP Sens. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenators are politicians, not jurors — they should act like it Sens. Kaine, Lee: 'We should not be at war with Iran unless Congress authorizes it' Overnight Defense: War powers fight runs into impeachment | Kaine has 51 votes for Iran resolution | Trump plans to divert .2B from Pentagon to border wall MORE (Utah) and Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstJuan Williams: Counting the votes to remove Trump Mitch McConnell may win the impeachment and lose the Senate Drug price outrage threatens to be liability for GOP MORE (Iowa) on Tuesday rolled out a paid parental leave proposal, as the issue is getting increasing attention from policymakers on both sides of the aisle.

The senators' draft legislation, known as the Cradle Act, would allow new parents to receive up to three months of paid-leave benefits after the birth or adoption of a child, in exchange for delaying collecting Social Security benefits when they retire.

"I believe the Cradle Act is a policy that not only attracts consensus, but is viable for families, employers and our economy," Ernst said during a press conference.

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Under the proposal, new parents would have the option to take one, two or three months of paid leave benefits. They would then postpone collection of their Social Security retirement benefits by two months for every one month of parental leave they take.

The benefit amount would be based on the formula used for calculating Social Security disability benefits. A fact sheet from the senators' offices said that a single parent with income equal to the federal poverty level would receive a benefit equal to about 74 percent of their wages.

Lee said the goal is for the draft legislation to be budget neutral in the long run, but at the front-end there would be costs of about $8 billion to $9 billion annually. He said that he and Ernst are looking at ways to offset those short-term costs.

The proposal comes as both Republicans and Democrats have put more focus on pushing for paid family leave ahead of the 2020 presidential election, when women will be a key group of voters.

Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpJared Kushner's sister-in-law Karlie Kloss says she will vote against Trump in 2020 Trump scheduled to attend Davos amid impeachment trial Lawmakers introduce bill to bolster artificial intelligence, quantum computing MORE, the president's daughter and adviser, has made paid leave one of her top priorities and met with Ernst, Lee and other GOP senators to discuss the topic last month. She said in a statement Tuesday that she looks forward to reviewing the proposal from Ernst and Lee.

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"I will continue to work with members on both sides of the aisle in support of the President’s goal of passing into law Paid Family Leave policy that supports 21st Century American working families," she said.

The ideas in Ernst and Lee's draft bill are based on a proposal from the conservative Independent Women's Forum. Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioApple under pressure to unlock Pensacola shooter's phones Senators offer bill to create alternatives to Huawei in 5G tech Surging Sanders draws fresh scrutiny ahead of debate MORE (R-Fla.) also offered similar legislation last year.

But Democrats have criticized the idea of a paid leave benefit that takes the form of early Social Security benefits, saying that people shouldn't have to choose between paid leave and retirement benefits. They have also criticized proposals that focus just on paid parental leave, rather than both family and medical leave.

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandSanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial Overnight Energy: Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate impact | Republicans offer details on their environmental proposals | Microsoft aims to be carbon negative by 2030 MORE (D-N.Y.), who has offered her own paid leave bill that takes a different approach, said in a statement Tuesday that Ernst and Lee's proposal is "not a realistic plan."

"It only covers new parents and it creates a false choice between Social Security and paid leave," she said. "We urgently need a national paid leave program that covers all workers for all medical emergencies, and anything less is just not enough."

Gillibrand, who has entered the 2020 presidential race, has offered legislation that would create a paid family and medical leave benefit that would be paid for through a small increase in payroll taxes. Republicans, however, have been critical of the tax increases associated with that bill.

Lee stressed that the paid parental leave benefit in his proposal is optional, and he said that those who are eligible for the benefit are likely to want to take it because they consider it valuable to spend time with their newborn. He also said that new parents have been paying into the Social Security system and will be paying into it for decades to come after their children are born.

"It's a tradeoff, but it's a tradeoff that I think many will take," he said.

Lee said that he and Ernst have discussed their proposal with a number of their Democratic colleagues, and several are considering supporting it. He declined to name the Democratic senators who might back his plan.