SALT LAKE CITY — A second GOP proposal that suggests using Social Security to finance paid family leave was introduced in the U.S. Senate Wednesday, adding momentum in Congress to address an issue that both Republicans and Democrats say threatens the well-being of parents and children.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said the New Parents Act would use money from the government's Social Security program to address a financial insecurity problem for parents of newborns.
"Working parents are often trapped in a series of no-win situations" when faced with taking time off or paying someone else to care for their newborn, he said at a news conference reintroducing the bill with Republican co-sponsors Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah and Reps. Ann Wagner of Missouri and Dan Crenshaw of Texas.
The plan would let new parents "pull forward" a portion of their Social Security benefits to cover up to three months of paid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a new child. To recoup the cost of pulling money out of the Social Security system, parents could either delay their retirement for up to six months per child or receive a reduced benefit during the first five years of retirement.
Rubio and Wagner stressed that their plan would be optional and offer "maximum flexibility so that families can determine what type of leave works best for them."
Their bill comes on the heels of another GOP proposal from Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, that would also allow parents to tap into their Social Security early and pay it back later. But that bill would not allow parents to keep working and use their Social Security for child care, while the Rubio-Wagner bill would.
Another paid parental leave proposal from Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., is expected, and The Washington Post reported he will speak on the topic next week. Meanwhile, Democrats are coalescing around a bill Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, of New York, first introduced in 2013 and reintroduced in February that would cover leave for childbirth and adoption as well as other family situations, such as caring for a seriously ill family member.
"I hope this becomes a competition of ideas where everybody is taking their views and applying it to the problem because I think that's where the solution is going to come from," said Rubio.
If a solution surfaces it will likely have the blessing of the White House.
Special adviser and first daughter Ivanka Trump has been pushing for a family leave policy since the 2016 presidential campaign, and she renewed her efforts by meeting with lawmakers to discuss their ideas after the president mentioned it in his State of the Union address this year.
Nationwide surveys have shown broad support for paid family leave to help care for new babies or other family members. But there is less consensus among the public on who should pay for it and how, mirroring similar divides in Congress.
The Deseret News' 2016 American Family Survey found 54 percent of Americans support requiring employers to offer paid family leave. Half the respondents wanted employers to cover the benefit, and 21 percent wanted government to pay for it.
A July 2018 poll by the National Partnership for Women & Families found 8 in 10 voters (84 percent) support a comprehensive national paid family and medical leave policy that covers all people who work. The survey showed 38 percent prefer employers and employees share the cost of providing the benefit, 21 percent support an employer-funded plan, 19 percent prefer that government cover the costs and 3 percent liked the idea of early withdrawals from Social Security.
While Democrats and Republicans are both responding to the public's desire for paid family leave, each of the proposals introduced so far contain nonstarters for lawmakers on the other side of the aisle.
For instance, the funding mechanism in Gillibrand's bill is a mandatory payroll tax, while Republicans are committed to a budget-neutral funding approach that people can choose whether or not to use. Meanwhile, the Republican plan only deals with parental leave, while Democrats have embraced more comprehensive relief, including leave for personal health care and other family needs.
While the Republican plans may be budget-neutral in the long-term, there are costs to getting the programs off the ground that have yet to be calculated. When introducing his plan earlier this month, Lee said that the short-term costs could be between $7 billion and $8 billion.
Aparna Mathur, an economic policy scholar with the American Enterprise Institute and co-director of the AEI-Brookings working group on paid family leave, told the Deseret News that a concern with involving Social Security is the entitlement program's precarious financial situation. Another concern is whether drawing from Social Security early could leave vulnerable, low-income wage earners with the difficult choice when they reach retirement age of delaying retirement or receiving a smaller benefit.
But supporters of both the GOP plans said participation would be voluntary.
Wagner said she and Rubio have worked with the Social Security Administration "to ensure that (the) bill does not affect future or current earned benefits and also maintains the solvency of the Social Security Trust Fund."
Romney signed on to the New Parents Act rather than Lee's proposal because of the added flexibility it provides new parents. "He’s encouraged to have more ideas, such as the Lee-Ernst bill, in the conversation, and he will continue to work with his colleagues to find the best solution to offer paid family leave for the working families in Utah and across the United States," the senator's spokesperson said.
While Romney, Rubio and others see the number of paid parental leave proposals and support from the White House as hopeful signs a bipartisan plan can be reached, such a compromise will require some tough choices.25 comments on this story
Mathur's bipartisan group ran into similar obstacles before arriving at a compromise plan recommending an employee payroll tax that would fund up to eight weeks of paid time off that would provide some workers up to 70 percent of their wages and the payout would be capped at $600 a week, according the group's 2017 report.
"None of us found this compromise entirely to our liking," the report said. "But in these partisan times, we felt an obligation to work toward a compromise that all of us could support to some extent. We believed this was better than doing nothing when the U.S. is the only developed nation without a national paid leave policy."