Nov 17, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Democrats draw up plan B for paid leave after Manchin veto

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Democrats are privately reaching out to Republicans to cinch a separate, bipartisan deal for paid family leave after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) crushed hopes of including it in President Biden's $1.75 trillion social spending plan.

Why it matters: The end-around is part of a broader effort to provide paid time off from work to care for others, regardless of the method. Some Republicans sound amenable, depending on the timing.

  • Senate Republicans plan to sit on the sidelines until Democrats concede it won’t be in the Build Back Better agenda the president is trying to pass through the partisan budget reconciliation process, aides tell Axios.
  • Once that concession is made, the aides say, GOP senators will be more open to negotiations.

Biden's also signaled he'd support a separate effort.

  • During a closed-door meeting with House members on Oct. 27, he promised he'd do his best to move it separately if it's not included in his Build Back Better package, a Democratic source told Axios.

What we're hearing: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who's been leading paid leave negotiations in the Senate, and her staff have been talking generally with fellow senators and Republican staff to lay the groundwork for a potential bipartisan deal.

  • Gillibrand told Axios she's had discussions with 10 Republican senators and hopes Manchin would support it.
  • Her outreach has included conversations with Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), one aide told Axios.
  • The process has been “slow, and in the nascent stages,” the aide said.

Between the lines: The talks hit a speed bump after it leaked that Gillibrand had given Meghan Markle the private cellphone numbers of senators in the hope the Duchess of Sussex could pressure them to act.

  • Some members considered that a breach of protocol, leaving them skeptical about future negotiations, two of the aides said.
  • They also have complained Gillibrand hasn't reached out to Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), who led a tax incentive program in 2017 that became the first-ever U.S. nationwide paid family leave policy.

Go deeper: Manchin has repeatedly made clear he has no interest in supporting a paid leave provision through the reconciliation process.

  • The senator said he's open to a program structured like Social Security, in which everyone pays into it and then individuals use it as needed.
  • He says that type of program can't be done through reconciliation, because it needs to be set up through a separate Treasury fund.
  • Given Manchin effectively holds veto power over the BBB plan in the 50-50 Senate, that stance makes a potential bipartisan bill the only realistic option moving forward.

What they're saying: Republicans "are more interested in tax benefits and different frameworks, not exactly what [Manchin's] interested in, which is more of an earned benefit," Gillibrand told Axios.

  • "I want to talk about what we can do now and what we can do together," she said.

What's next: Organizations like the Fairness Project are gearing up to take their fight to the state level.

  • The groups plan to put paid leave on the ballot as a referendum question in dozens of states in 2022.
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