WASHINGTON -- Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who said he would not run for speaker of the House if it would require him to give up his family time, offers paid family leave to his staff, but won't get into the details.
Ryan earned kudos from Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook and the author of Lean In, on Wednesday after drawing attention to his work-life balance when setting conditions for his speaker bid.
“I cannot and will not give up my family time," Ryan told the Republican conference.
And he got exactly what he wanted. Having worked out all of his demands with House Republicans, Ryan formally declared on Thursday evening that he is running for the post, which he is expected to win easily.
Ryan’s comments about family time, however, irked some progressives, because Ryan has opposed another policy considered vital to a family-friendly work environment: mandatory paid leave for new parents. A handful of conservatives joined in the criticism, including Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), who called Ryan's desire not to work on weekends an “unreasonable demand.”
The job of speaker is known to involve grueling hours and weekend fundraising for the party -- something Ryan has made it clear he would not be doing. Ryan insisted this week that if he is elected speaker, he will not make hundreds of phone calls to the donor base on weekends or travel for events. The frequent three-day weekends afforded to Congress, he said, will be for his family.
Because paid paternity and maternity leave is considered part of a family-friendly work environment, The Huffington Post asked Ryan what his policy is for the people who work for him in his congressional office. Do his staffers enjoy paid leave when they have a new baby?
Asked four times about his paid family leave policy for staff in the hallways of the House as he darted back and forth from the chamber floor to his Ways and Means Committee office, Ryan did not respond. To be fair, Ryan also did not utter a single response to the questions lobbed at him by various other reporters. He simply said, “I’m not a hall interview guy, you guys know that.”
Ryan’s press secretary later responded to the question, confirming that Ryan’s office “does have a paid family leave policy in place.” When pressed on the details of the maternity and paternity leave aspects of the policy, Ryan’s spokesman said that it was against office policy to comment on the details of the office manual.
Ryan, unlike the vast majority of Americans, holds a position that allows him to set the terms of his and his staff’s employment. Unless conservatives are peeved by his weekends off, and mount another coup -- which is unlikely given the apparent need for the conference to heal -- Ryan will be free to dictate his time as he chooses.
The United States is the only developed country that does not mandate paid maternity leave, meaning that policies are left up to individual employers. (To put that into perspective, new Swedish parents are entitled to 480 days of paid leave.) The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 provides 12 weeks of leave for the birth of a child and other needs, but it's unpaid. And fewer than 40 percent of Americans say they are able to take some kind of paid maternity or paternity leave, according to a 2014 White House report. On the Hill, the individual offices determine how much paid parental leave staffers receive.
The Huffington Post surveyed members of Congress about their leave policies in January. Twenty-six Senate offices and 60 House offices provided details to HuffPost -- a group of 86 lawmakers that skewed largely Democratic. Of those 86, the majority gave their workers at least some paid maternity or paternity leave. Some members had no formal policies, while others were generous, like Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), whose office said at the time that all staffers receive 16 weeks of paid leave for the birth of a child.
Still, even Republicans who offer paid leave for their own staff don't necessarily support making it mandatory for the rest of Americans.
Like all Republicans, Ryan has not signed on to Democrat-backed legislation that would establish a national paid family and medical leave program by creating a fund within the Social Security Administration to be paid for by employer and employee contributions.
“Mr. Ryan is supportive of paid family and medical leave -- he offers it to his staff -- but believes the decision is best left to the employer, not the government,” Ryan’s spokesman said in an email.
The Democrat-backed Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act has been referred to Ryan’s Ways and Means Committee. The committee did not take it up for a vote, and now with Ryan on his way out as chairman, the bill is likely to go nowhere.
The bill Ryan does support is the Working Families Flexibility Act, which allows employers to offer workers time off for overtime worked, rather than extra pay. The rate is 1.5 hours off for every hour worked overtime.
Advocates for paid leave say that when these policies are discretionary, the result is that many new parents are left without a safety net. In February, Rebecca Traister wrote at The New Republic that this policy makes "parenting a privileged pursuit, takes women out of the workforce, and ultimately affirms public and professional life as being built for men."
Ultimately, Ryan’s push to spend time with his family has offered Democrats an opportunity to raise awareness of the need to provide paid family leave for all.
“What I’m excited about hearing is that in the conversations that have gone on, there’s been a respect for the fact that now Chairman, perhaps soon-to-be Speaker Ryan -- [there is] a respect for his family-work balance,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “That’s what we want for all of America’s families, and part of that is family and medical leave. I hope that respect for his particular situation would translate for a recognition of what that means to all of America’s families.”