"No one should have to choose between caring for a child and their paycheck, especially during an economic downturn," said Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., chairman of the committee.
The bill (H.R. 626) would allow federal employees to take four weeks of paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child, in addition to any annual or sick leave they had accrued. The legislation passed the House in 2008, but stalled in the Senate.
Currently, the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act allows employees to take off up to 12 weeks when they have or adopt a child, but that leave is unpaid. In some cases, federal employees can substitute accrued annual or sick leave for unpaid leave.
Federal employee groups, including the National Treasury Employees Union, National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, and Federally Employed Women praised the committee's approval of the bill, saying it would make the federal government a more attractive employer.
But in a move that could signal upcoming Republican resistance, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the committee's ranking member, said he could not support the bill at this time because of its cost, which the Congressional Budget Office has pegged at $850 million over five years.
"I fully recognize that, like their private sector counterparts, most federal employees work hard and deserve competitive compensation and benefits packages," Issa wrote in a May 4 letter to his colleagues on the committee. "In these perilous economic times, however, when many in the private sector are having to make difficult cuts, it is inappropriate for us to heap even more generous benefits on federal employees."
But Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., the bill's sponsor, said CBO had reported that the bill would not violate pay-as-you-go rules. And Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., said Issa's assessment of the costs was based on misguided priorities.
"If we're going to attract the best and the brightest, competing with the private sector, this is increasingly something younger workers expect to be part of the benefit package," Connolly said. He noted that during his term as chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in Virginia, "We felt compelled to add this very benefit if we were going to compete with the private sector and other public [employers]. I think the question is not can we afford to do this, but can we afford not to do this?"
Issa also said he was concerned about language that would allow paid leave for employees who adopt or bring a foster child into their home. That provision could drive up costs, he said. Issa added that though he supports foster parents, he is not sure they should be covered.
Rep. Danny K. Davis, D-Ill., noted that May is National Foster Care Month, and said foster parents should receive the same support as birth parents. Thirty-four percent of the children in Davis' district live with someone other than their birth parents. "I would be delighted if federal workers or any other workers were adopting one of these children every year," he said. "In fact, I'd give them a Medal of Honor."