A panel of conservative experts said Tuesday that policies favored by Democrats such as increasing the minimum wage or mandating paid leave would hurt working American women.
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum and former director of the Congressional Budget Office, said he opposes universal childcare and other proposals touted by liberals as a means of increasing women’s economic power because they take choices away from female workers.
"I’m … not a fan of this deciding on behalf of women what their benefit package should look like. And mandating this leave policy or that childcare policy or universal childcare is at their expense," Holtz-Eakin said during an Empowered Women event in Washington, D.C., Tuesday.
Holtz-Eakin cited research by the American Action Forum that determined the cost of new D.C. legislation that would give workers up to 16 weeks of paid family leave if the policy were enacted nationwide. Researchers found it would cost taxpayers between $306.6 billion and $1.9 trillion annually, the higher end of which Holtz-Eakin joked would be in "Bernie Sanders territory."
Democratic presidential candidates such as Hillary Clinton and Sen. Sanders (I., Vt.) have championed the idea of paid family leave. Clinton attacked Republican contender Carly Fiorina during Tuesday night’s Democratic primary debate for her position on paid leave and Sanders called it an "international embarrassment" that the United States does not mandate the benefit. The Democratic presidential candidates also support raising the minimum wage.
However, Holtz-Eakin labeled a federally mandated minimum wage increase an "incredibly poorly targeted anti-poverty policy," citing analysis showing a wage hike would kill 7 million U.S. jobs.
"We want policies that are pro-work, not ones that destroy jobs and are poorly targeted," he said.
Neil Bradley, chief strategy officer at the Conservative Reform Network, agreed that these so called "fixes" come at a "tremendous cost" to taxpayers that liberals don’t like to talk about.
"They don’t discuss the costs because often the costs are unseen. So, the unseen costs are 7 million people who didn’t get a job because you destroyed it with the minimum wage increase," Bradley said.
"The unseen is the working mother who doesn’t get a raise next year because her employer was forced to provide a mandated government benefit that may not fit her needs as much as a pay raise would."
"In a fixed-cost system, an employer had to make a choice. In this instance, the government made the choice for them and the ultimate loser in that situation was that working mother, that working father, or, frankly, the working single person," Bradley said.
Lori Sanders, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute and herself a young mother, recalled working part-time at a children’s clothing store in college at age 20 to help support her son.
"It was very hard for our manager to dole out hours. We had a steep payroll cutoff and that was as many as we could have," Sanders said. "And there were other single moms at the store as well, and so one of the things that is just a reality that the left doesn’t want to deal with is, when you talk about increasing the minimum wage, the number of those hours that are available goes down."
"When you’re managing a work flow on a floor for a store with a set number of hours, the people that are going to be hurt are the ones who are inflexible, which are the ones who are probably single mothers."
As an alternative to liberal solutions to help women in the workplace, Holtz-Eakin proposed developing a policy that would allow employers to offer a range of untaxed benefits from which employees could pick and choose, thereby giving women and parents more autonomy in selecting their benefits.
"There are a lot of employers who provide benefits and they are untaxed benefits," he said. "You could easily have a policy that says we’re not going to become a handout factory, but we’re going to give an employer an allotment of those things not subject to tax and employees get to pick what they want."
"Put the women in control of what they get. I think that would be the key," Holtz-Eakin added.