Republican leaders in Congress unveiled on Wednesday the New Parents Act, their proposal to implement paid family leave for parents of newborn or recently adopted children.
The bill was introduced by Sens. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Mitt Romney (R., Utah), and Reps. Ann Wagner (R., Mo.) and Dan Crenshaw (R., Texas). It is a slight revision of Rubio and Wagner's Economic Security for New Parents Act, which the two rolled out last year when neither Romney nor Crenshaw were yet serving in Congress.
"Our economic policies have left young, working families behind at a time when our marriage and childbirth rates are falling," Rubio said at a press conference Wednesday. "It is time to realign our economic policies in support of American families, which is why I am proud to re-introduce the New Parents Act."
Among developed countries, the United States is more or less the only nation to not have a policy which allows new parents to take paid leave from work. Americans have been entitled to up to three months of unpaid leave since 1993. But just 14 percent of workers have access to paid leave from a private employer or from one of the four states that provide it by law.
At a time when childcare costs are higher than ever, lost income during the first three months of life may deter parents from staying home with their new kids. This matters because research shows that being able to stay home is linked to better bonding and better health in the first year of life, as well as higher rates of moms returning to work.
Providing more support for families, especially blue-collar ones, is part of what has driven a group of Republican law makers to work with presidential daughter Ivanka Trump to roll out a number of different approaches to PFL, all with an eye towards building bipartisan consensus around the issue. The New Parents Act is the latest of these.
The New Parents Act would implement a paid family leave regime through the same approach taken by other Republican proposals: allowing new parents to draw social security benefits, up to a variable percentage of their normal income, for up to three months following birth or adoption. These drawdowns would be repaid by either delaying retirement by the amount of time taken, or by receiving a proportional reduction in payments for the first five years of retirement.
"It is rare that we get the chance to drastically improve the lives of hard-working families with no long-term impact on our budget," Crenshaw said. "By giving families temporary access to future funds when they're growing their family, we are helping Americans when they need it most. This will be a life-changing option."
In this approach, the NPA is similar to the CRADLE Act, introduced earlier this month by Sens. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa) and Mike Lee (R., Utah), which also pays for PFL by early withdrawal from Social Security (although under CRADLE, beneficiaries would need to delay retirement by two months rather than one).
The two bills have two major differences, however: One is that the NPA does not require a person to take time off of work to draw the benefit; the other is that couples can transfer their respective entitlements to each other, meaning that one parent can continue working while the other stays home and collects the full benefit to which both partners are entitled.
This transferability, Rubio said Wednesday, is what distinguishes his approach from Ernst and Lee's—the latter two had said previously that their bill was designed to emphasize the importance of staying home, and so did not include transferability or the right to continue working while collecting. The distinction is a vital one: It means that the Rubio-Romney-Crenshaw-Wagner approach amounts to a de facto child benefit, giving a proportional cash payment to working adults for the first three months of their parenthood.
Whether this flexibility will be enough to placate Democrats remains to be seen. They have their own proposal, the FAMILY Act, which is the work of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.). Unlike either the CRADLE Act or the New Parents Act, the FAMILY Act pays for federal PFL through an increase to the payroll tax—a model which Democrats argue avoids penalizing parents later on in life, but which is unlikely to garner much support among Republicans skittish about hiking taxes.
"I don't think it's a surprise that our Democrat friends would say let's increase the tax instead," Romney said. "And we're much more inclined to say, no, we don't want to add an additional burden to working families, and we don't want to increase the tax."
A third Republican proposal for PFL, from Sen. Bill Cassidy (La.) is expected in the near future, although how it will differ from the other two remains unclear. Although Republicans will likely hash out their differences on the proposal in the Senate, Democrats' concerns about their funding model means any GOP plan will face a high hurdle in the opposition-controlled House.