WASHINGTON ― House Democrats are including four weeks of paid family and medical leave in their version of the Build Back Better Act, as leaders negotiate their way to a vote on the spending and tax bill as well as a bipartisan infrastructure bill.
The House Rules Committee would start the process Wednesday for an eventual floor vote on the newly amended legislation, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced in a letter to colleagues, though it wasn’t clear how soon the House would consider the bill.
The policy would guarantee workers have at least four weeks of paid leave for illness, the birth of a new child, or to take care of a sick family member. Currently, more than 75% of the private sector workforce doesn’t have access to paid family leave, and roughly 60% doesn’t have paid medical leave. The United States is one of the only countries that doesn’t provide any paid leave for workers.
While House lawmakers are adding four weeks of paid leave to their bill — cut down from the original 12-week proposal — the policy is still on shaky ground, as it does not have the support of 50 senators. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who has been in extensive negotiations over the plan as Democrats try to court his much-needed vote for the legislation, came out opposed to the policy late in negotiations last week, expressing concerns about the program’s cost and the potential for fraud. He reiterated his opposition Wednesday, after the House announced it would be added into its bill.
Pelosi said in her letter that she had “been informed by a Senator of opposition to a few of the priorities contained in our bill” and that Democrats would have to figure out a compromise.
Still, Democrats seem to be overcoming some of the biggest obstacles to passing the Build Back Better legislation this week. On Tuesday, they reached a compromise on prescription drug price reform and finally started haggling over a tax deduction that many Democrats have clamored for even though it overwhelmingly benefits the richest Americans, contrary to the party’s general message on taxes.
Progressives have twice blocked a stand-alone vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill in the House, as it’s their only leverage to fight for stronger social spending programs in the Build Back Better Act. But Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said Tuesday that progressives are ready to support both bills this week despite uncertainty over some Build Back Better provisions.
Paid leave was among their demands, championed by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who has been advocating for a robust paid leave program for more than a decade. But it’s not just progressives who have called for paid leave — the program has been broadly supported among the Democratic caucus. Manchin almost stands alone in blocking the policy from coming to fruition.
“There are many programs and priorities that are central to rebuilding our economy to be stronger and more inclusive, but with paid leave, we will finally recognize that workers have responsibilities outside of their jobs and unlock their full potential,” House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said in a statement Wednesday.
In the Senate, Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have been trying to find ways to win over Manchin on a paid leave program. But hashing out the policy hasn’t been prioritized as much as other programs like child care, or even the most recent negotiations over prescription drug reform.
“I don’t know the answer,” Warren said in response to a question about when the United States will catch up with other industrialized nations on paid leave. “I’ve been in this fight for years. There are people who’ve been in politics longer than I have, who’ve been in this fight even longer. Families have come under increasing stress for decades now.”