Senate climate favors paid parental leave bill, supporters say
Supporters of a bill that would provide paid parental leave for federal employees are hopeful that Congress finally will approve such legislation this year.
The House last week passed the 2009 Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act (H.R. 626), which would guarantee federal employees at least four weeks of paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child. The bill still must wind its way through the Senate, where it died last year. While it is not yet on the Senate calendar, a companion bill -- S. 354 -- is now before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs federal workforce subcommittee.
While H.R. 626 passed with some Republican support, it also drew strong criticism from opponents, because the Congressional Budget Office has estimated it could cost as much as $938 million from fiscal 2010 to fiscal 2014.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., posted a video on YouTube outlining his opposition to the bill, calling it yet another government bailout. Issa, the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, offered an amendment to H.R. 626 that would have allowed employees seeking time off for the birth or adoption of a child to borrow against future sick or vacation leave. The amendment, which would not have provided employees with paid parental leave per se, was defeated.
The legislation so far has not publicly provoked the same degree of opposition in the Senate. The office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the Republican lawmaker did not have a position yet on the bill.
Staffers for Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine -- two key Republican votes on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee -- said the lawmakers also are reviewing S. 354. The committee's chairman, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., is one of the bill's co-sponsors. Collins was a co-sponsor of a 2008 bill, which offered eight weeks of paid leave to mothers. H.R. 626 gives paid leave to both parents.
Proponents of the current bill said the political climate in 2009 is more favorable to passage because of Democratic control of Congress, and a president who co-sponsored similar legislation as a senator. "It's going to really help our chances in the Senate," said Randy Erwin, legislative director for the National Federation of Federal Employees. President Obama, however, has been cautious about directly backing the bill's specifics, saying in a June 3 statement that his administration "supports the goal of H.R. 626" and "is currently reviewing existing federal leave policies to determine the extent of their gaps and limitations."
Brian Johnson, executive director of Alliance for Worker Freedom -- a project of Americans for Tax Reform, which has opposed the bill -- said despite the odds, he is still hopeful that the Senate will not reach 60 votes for cloture, which would end debate on the legislation.
"It's going to be a tough debate," Johnson said. "It's an issue that tugs at the heartstrings, and a lot of senators vote with their hearts instead of their brains."
The House also passed paid parental leave legislation in 2008 for federal employees, but a combination of legislative lethargy before the presidential election, and a lack of support from former President Bush, contributed to the bill's demise, said Erwin.
Lawmakers and other supporters of the federal benefit have pushed for a legislative fix since the early 1990s, but it wasn't until last year that the idea gained real momentum.