Senate Democrats appear to have failed to convince Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to support a paid leave program, and told the House that it will likely have to be cut out of the Build Back Better spending and tax bill entirely.
Democrats were scrambling Wednesday to find a way to put some kind of national paid leave program in their budget bill, floating narrower policies that would leave protections for those who are sick themselves or caring for sick family members.
But in the end, Manchin didn’t look like he would bite, and Democrats sent out a signal that they were abandoning the push, according to a congressional aide briefed on the decision.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) who spearheaded the charge to win Manchin over on paid leave said she is still waiting to hear from the West Virginia Democrat on her suggested compromise.
“I presented my idea, he’s researching what other countries do, he is looking into the details and he said he will remain open-minded…it’s not out,” Gillibrand told HuffPost. “It’s not over till it’s over.”
Gillibrand has not made details of that proposal public. She and two other female Democratic senators confronted Manchin about it on the Senate floor on Wednesday evening.
Manchin, however, said this spending and tax package is not the place for paid leave.
“I’m looking at everything but to put this into a reconciliation bill— it’s a major policy— is not the place to do it,” Manchin told HuffPost Wednesday evening.
Paid leave has been under serious threat all week because of Manchin, who privately expressed concerns about the potential for fraud in the program, and the program’s cost.
“It doesn’t make sense to me. ... I just can’t do it,” Manchin told CNN on Wednesday about the proposal, citing its impact on the debt.
The United States is an outlier among industrialized countries in the world for not having any kind of paid leave mandate. Workers must rely on their employers to voluntarily decide whether they will offer paid leave for the birth of a new child or if a worker is sick or has to care for a sick family member.
Only 20% of workers in the private sector have access to paid family leave and roughly 42% have access to paid medical leave to recovery from illness or injury. Low-wage workers are the most likely to not have access to paid leave.
President Joe Biden’s original proposal was a national paid leave program with partial wage replacement that would phase in 12 weeks of paid leave over the course of 10 years. The House, led by Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), separately put together a roughly $500 billion private-public proposal to provide 12 weeks of paid leave for Americans to care for a new child or a sick loved one, or to deal with a family death or the deployment of a military spouse.
The White House acknowledged Wednesday that such proposals did not have Manchin’s support, but there was a sliver of hope throughout the week that Manchin could accept some kind of compromise.
In recent weeks, paid leave advocates have grumbled that the White House didn’t throw enough weight behind paid leave. The policy was accidentally left out of a fact sheet on the Build Back Better plan, and supporters of the policy wanted to see the president or vice president promoting more stories that would elevate the policy.
“One wonders whether more emphasis from the White House on paid leave would have created more political will,” said Vicki Shabo, an expert on paid leave at the think tank New America.
There was hope the pandemic, which showed how unprotected workers are if they fall ill or must care for a sick family member, would serve as some momentum for a paid leave program in the United States.
Congress put in place a temporary federal paid leave mandate during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, followed by some financial incentives for companies to voluntarily offer paid time off to sick workers. When paid leave fell out of the American Rescue Plan, Democrats’ COVID-19 relief bill passed earlier this year, lawmakers vowed to get it included in this next package.
It’s a remarkably popular proposal, even with Republicans, polling above 70% in recent surveys. The last major gain in paid leave in the United States was under former President Donald Trump, who signed the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act into law, giving roughly 2 million federal workers access to 12 weeks of parental leave.