Paid family leave proposal at risk

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) addresses reporters after the weekly Senate Democratic policy luncheon on Tuesday, October 19, 2021.
Greg Nash

Senate Democrats are continuing to negotiate a proposal to provide workers paid family and medical leave in their massive spending plan after reports surfaced in recent days that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) opposes the measure.

As the party works to trim down overall costs for their spending plan, which recent reports have placed in the $2 trillion range, the proposed paid leave program is one of several party-backed priorities facing potential cuts.

{mosads}Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said on Tuesday that she’s concerned about the fate of the program, days after President Biden said his proposal for the paid leave had shrunk from 12 weeks to four as the party looks to cut costs.

“I’ve been pushing to keep it in,” Klobuchar told The Hill, adding that “all the parameters are now being negotiated just like everything else because of the change in the funding amount.” 

Initially, the price tag proposed for the party’s sweeping package was $3.5 trillion. In an earlier version of the bill, leaders said the legislation would have unlocked funding for items like tuition-free community college, expansions to Medicaid and Medicare, as well as other social benefits that have either since been nixed from the bill altogether or are expected to see significant cuts.

Recent reports have said Manchin opposes the new proposal of four weeks’ paid leave. Pressed by The Hill on Tuesday about his concerns about the program remaining in the bill, Manchin said talks are still ongoing.

“Everybody’s still working,” he said, adding “everybody’s in conversations about it.”

Many Democrats are hoping to pass the proposal as part of the larger spending bill they aim to get through Congress using reconciliation.

However, in order to pass the bill in the upper chamber, Democrats will need every member of their party to vote in favor of the measure, making Manchin a key centrist holdout in negotiations.

In remarks to reporters, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) stressed the importance of the proposed paid leave program in the reconciliation plan and said “people need to figure out how to compromise.”

“With only 50 of us, we got to figure out how to come to an agreement and everybody isn’t going to get everything they want,” she said. 

While Shaheen said she hasn’t spoken with Manchin about the proposal, she told The Hill she has been in communication with leadership.

House progressives have also continued to push hard for the proposed program amid negotiations.

“I have constituents calling me saying, ‘I don’t feel well,’ or ‘I have to take care of a loved one who doesn’t feel well, but I’m worried that I won’t have a job to return to in the morning. Can you give me peace of mind that I’ll have a job?’ And I can’t give them that? In the middle of a pandemic?” Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) said.

Advocates have called on Democrats to keep proposals for paid leave, as well as investments in child care and universal pre-K, in the spending bill to boost women’s workforce participation. 

The debate over the program comes after more than 300,000 women exited the labor force last month, even as the nation saw tens of thousands of jobs added to the economy overall.

In remarks to reporters on Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who has also been pushing for the program’s inclusion in the bill, said she has been working “very hard on a new proposal” with Manchin, though she did not reveal further details.

“And I’m optimistic that we will continue to work together on a proposal,” she added.

Democrats are working quickly to strike a deal on an overall framework for the spending bill, which would advance key parts of Biden’s legislative agenda, this week.


Jordain Carney contributed.

Tags Amy Klobuchar Ayanna Pressley Jeanne Shaheen Joe Biden Joe Manchin Kirsten Gillibrand Paid Family Leave paid medical leave

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