Though GOP lawmakers generally panned the proposals in last week's State of the Union address, House Democrats are hoping that a coalition of Republican women may work with them on one of the main priorities that President Barack Obama outlined in his speech: paid leave legislation.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) on Monday reintroduced the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act, which would provide six weeks of paid maternity or paternity leave for federal employees. The lawmakers expressed optimism that their female colleagues across the aisle would support the legislation.
“I believe that this is a bill that can pass. I believe that this is a bill that’s going to be like the Women’s Museum, which was really championed by many Republican women leaders,” Maloney said.
Democrats were encouraged last week when Republican congresswomen successfully stood together to scuttle a restrictive anti-abortion bill after GOP leadership refused to remove a controversial clause. The measure would have allowed a rape victim to get an abortion after 20 weeks only if she had reported the rape to law enforcement.
“Now we’ve seen some [Republican women] stand up and make their voices heard, force a bill off the floor. We intend to approach those women,” said Norton. “It looks like women are finding their voice in the Republican party.”
The Huffington Post reached out on Monday afternoon to the offices of eight female GOP lawmakers who helped roll back the abortion legislation to see if they would support the paid leave bill. None of them had responded by Monday evening.
The paid leave legislation coincides with a push by the White House to expand paid leave benefits for Americans more broadly. While the Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees many workers unpaid leave, the U.S. is pretty much alone among developed nations in not requiring some degree of paid leave for workers after the birth of a child.
The White House recently ordered the heads of federal agencies to extend paid maternity and paternity leave to government workers by advancing them sick days that they have not yet accrued. The legislation put forth by Maloney would guarantee the leave for those workers without the accounting trick or the possibility that a subsequent administration would reverse course.
The president has urged Congress to pass the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act as well as the Healthy Families Act, which would allow workers employed at large businesses to accrue seven days of paid sick leave a year.
Earlier versions of the bill introduced Monday passed the House in 2008 and 2009 with some Republican support, though they never made it through the Senate. In stumping for the measure on Monday, Democrats said the protections currently offered under the Family and Medical Leave Act are out of date and don't address the needs of the modern working family.
“It’s all but useless except for women like me, women who have leave, or women who can afford to take time off from work,” said Norton.
"It’s no longer Ozzie and Harriet, with [Harriet] sitting at home," added Maloney. "Both Ozzie and Harriet are working and carrying a very stressful burden. The support system is not there.”