Paid parental leave advances in House

By Alyssa Rosenberg

March 25, 2009

The House federal workforce subcommittee on Wednesday passed a bill that would provide federal employees with four weeks of paid leave on the birth or adoption of a child.

During the bill's markup, Democratic committee members and one Republican said the 2009 Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act (H.R. 626) would provide an important model to private sector employers. The legislation advances to the full House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

"This bill would only affect the 1.8 million federal employees, but it is often the federal government that leads the country," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who introduced the legislation. "It is a model project for the country and for federal employees…. As a country that constantly talks about family values, it's a way of putting the reality into the rhetoric."

Maloney introduced similar legislation during the last congressional session. That bill included eight weeks of paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child, but the full committee amended the bill to reduce the benefit to four weeks. The House passed the bill in 2008, but the Senate did not vote on it.

Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Calif., said he supported the legislation previously and would do so again, because he believes the bill is a good example of how the federal government should make policy for states and localities to emulate.

"One of the things the federal government ought to do more of is lead through example, rather than dictate," he said. "As the largest employer, we can set an example so millions of businesses out there will follow our example, take a look at the bottom line, and see they can have their employees working with their families, not just with their businesses."

Bilbray was the lone Republican at the hearing to speak out in support of the measure. Ranking subcommittee member Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said he could not support the bill because there were no hearings on it to date during the current congressional session. Chaffetz said as a freshman representative he was unfamiliar with previous debate on the legislation. Maloney said she would invite Chaffetz to upcoming events in support of the bill.

Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., said the state of the economy made it an inopportune time to extend further benefits to employees.

"At this time, when people in my district can't find a job, to be generous with their money to government employees is an insult," he said. "Maybe you can get away with that argument in normal times, but right now, we shouldn't be more generous to federal employees than [to] most Americans."

But Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., the new chairman of the federal workforce subcommittee, said the economic crisis argued for protecting already vulnerable workers.

"Many families dependent on two incomes are being forced to make ends meet on only one salary," when one spouse takes leave to care for a new child, he said. "This drastically reduces the ability of workers to provide the best care for themselves and their loved ones. Rising gasoline and food prices and falling home values make this situation even more difficult."

By Alyssa Rosenberg

March 25, 2009