Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., introduced the Comprehensive Paid Leave for Federal Employees Act.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., introduced the Comprehensive Paid Leave for Federal Employees Act. Greg Nash/Pool via AP

Lawmakers Spar Over Paid Family Leave for Feds

Democrats argue that the pandemic revealed the need for more expansive leave policies: Republicans dismissed the plan as an unnecessary “perk” for bureaucrats.

Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Thursday argued that the federal government must provide its employees with paid family leave in order to recruit and retain the next generation of federal workers.

In January, Committee Chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., introduced the Comprehensive Paid Leave for Federal Employees Act, which would provide federal employees with up to 12 weeks per year of paid leave to deal with a personal illness, to care for a family member suffering from illness, or in connection with a family member going on or returning from active military duty. The bill mirrors the recently enacted law providing feds with 12 weeks of paid parental leave per year.

“The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated dramatically and undeniably the need for paid family leave,” Maloney said. “Too many Americans lacked access to paid family leave during the pandemic, with devastating consequences. Why do we tolerate policies that actually create an incentive for workers to come to work sick because they cannot afford to take unpaid time off?”

But Republicans on the committee largely dismissed the proposal, arguing that paid family leave is an unnecessary “perk” for “bureaucrats.” They also said debate on the measure was at best premature, citing the lack of a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office.

“This just means more benefits for federal workers who already enjoy job security and lavish job benefits not afforded to most American workers,” said ranking member Rep. James Comer, R-Ky. “And this comes after President Biden’s announcement delaying the federal workforce’s return to the workplace despite most Americans being expected to show up for work.”

Comer’s comments incensed Maloney, leading to a shouting match between herself and GOP members of the committee.

“I doubt that the women in the great state of Kentucky think that having a child is a ‘perk,’” she said. “It is not a perk, and too many of us have been fired, thrown out of the room, told not to come back because you’ve dared to have a child. Many women have sick children, and when they’re sick, they need their mother. If your child is traumatized, if they’re sick, what’s wrong with giving them paid leave to be with them?”

Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., railed against the measure, coupling it with the Biden administration’s efforts to expand the use of telework and roll back the Trump White House’s severe restrictions on official time.

“A key component of the current return-to-work plan is to make sure federal employees don’t actually have to come back to work, pushing for permanent expanded telework without understanding what the impact has been nor what it will be,” he said. “And now we’re looking at ways to give federal employees even more time off on the backs of the American taxpayers . . . Combined with federal holidays and annual lave, federal employees now would only have to work about eight months out of the year. Are you kidding me?”

American Federation of Government Employees National President Everett Kelley testified that the idea that offering paid family leave would mean that feds don’t work four months out of the year is false, noting that it would only be used in emergencies and would have requirements, like a doctor certifying that a condition requires time off to recuperate or provide care for a family member. He also objected to comments by Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., suggesting that federal employees have had stable expansive non-salary benefits.

“Every federal employee would not be able to take four months of leave, that’s not what this is about,” Kelley said. “To propose that would be a lie . . . And I heard earlier this idea that federal workers haven’t given up anything in terms of benefits. If you look back to 2013 and 2014, it was federal employees who gave up retirement benefits that were cut, all to pay for extended unemployment insurance.”

Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Texas, argued that if federal employees don’t have enough leave accrued to cover for a health emergency, they need to change how they use existing leave to save ahead of time.

“It’s all about saving,” he said. “We can’t live day-to-day. We have to save for that rainy day. I just feel this is a cover for socialistic policy.”

Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., who has introduced separate legislation that would set up a program to offer paid family leave to all employees in the public and private sectors, dismissed that line of thinking, describing it as callous and misunderstanding of the challenges that Americans face every day.

“All I can think is, ‘There but for the grace of God go I,’” she said. “Many of my colleagues today have really proved that our greatest deficit is not one of resources, but of empathy. Our greatest wealth as a nation is the health of our people, and a meaningful, universal and permanent paid leave policy is about the health of our people and the stabilization of our families. So many of your opinions fly in the face of what you often characterize as your promotion of family values, and furthermore proves you value people’s labor in the traditional sense more than you do their very lives.”