Jul 14, 2022 - Politics & Policy

GOP takes a fresh look at paid family leave

Illustration of a stork holding a briefcase.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Republicans are taking a renewed interest in paid family leave — traditionally a Democratic priority — in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.

Why it matters: Republicans urgently want to establish themselves as pro-woman and pro-family, as critics accuse the party of caring about children only before they're born.

The big picture: The U.S. is one of only six countries that doesn't guarantee paid leave to new mothers. And of the states that have banned abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling, none have a leave policy.

"We're going to have to step up and do more. And I think that people are prepared to do that," Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) told Axios.

  • "We have to start thinking in terms of some of these things. Now that Roe has been overturned, to be more supportive of families and mothers," Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) told Axios.
  • "We should at least be providing as much help to women who decide to keep their child as those who decide to terminate the pregnancy," Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told Axios.

How it works: Democratic proposals are typically structured as tax-funded payments straight to workers. But Republicans have long opposed this framework.

  • They're more interested in policies that wouldn't raise spending, which borrow from Social Security funds, foster the creation of new kinds private leave insurance, or provide tax credits.
  • One of those proposals—Rubio's "Pro-Family Framework"—features an expansion of the child-care tax credit to include "unborn children," more funding for benefits for parents and a paid family leave proposal he floated back in 2018 with Ivanka Trump.
  • It would pay for family leave by letting parents take money from their future social security payments. Democrats have criticized the idea, saying it would do more harm than good for women, who already face a pay gap in Social Security.

State of play: South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) last week told CNN the "time is right" for family leave, the first time she was on record with her support, according to Adrienne Schweer, a family leave fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

  • "The cadence of Republicans talking about paid family leave in a positive and constructive way has increased exponentially since Dobbs," Schweer said.
  • She's been fielding calls from GOP legislators trying to understand the issue.

The other side: "I think it's actually unconscionable that this is coming up now after taking away people's bodily integrity," said Dawn Huckelbridge, the director of Paid Leave for All Action.

Flashback: Paid leave was one of the first items to fall out of Biden's Build Back Better bill.

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