Sure Looks Like Democrats Are Killing Paid Family Leave to Please Joe Manchin

President Joe Biden's “framework” for passing the Build Back Better Act fails to mention paid family leave at all.
October 28, 2021, 3:48pm
Close-up of mother looking at newborn daughter yawning while lying on bed
Close-up of mother looking at newborn daughter yawning while lying on bed (Getty Images)

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Democrats have been toiling to push through their own New Deal—a massive social spending bill covering climate change, healthcare, and child care—and secure President Joe Biden’s legacy.

To get it done, they’re apparently willing to kill paid leave, alongside other disintegrating campaign promises. 

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Biden’s framework for the Build Back Better Act, unveiled Thursday, failed to mention paid leave at all, and reports from a day earlier suggested the proposal had been obliterated to assuage West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, the 74-year-old, chronically unsatisfied moderate who somehow became capable of torpedoing the entire Democratic agenda.

Party leadership is likely to point to the many other promising provisions that seemingly did survive the public, ugly gutting of Biden’s signature economic plan: $1.75 trillion devoted to solutions on climate change, universal pre-kindergarten, healthcare, housing, and more, according to Biden’s framework. 

But neglecting paid leave will disproportionately hurt the low-income workers of color who might’ve expected better. And voters, especially those tired of Democrats’ better-than-nothing attitude, are sure to recall that the spending bill went from offering 12 weeks of paid leave, to four, to zilch, putting working families right back at square one, despite all the focus on their plight during the pandemic.

The benefits of paid leave—which some employers voluntarily offer—are numerous and evident, according to the progressive Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. For one, parents who get a bit of paid time to care for helpless newborns or adopted kids can help contribute to their child’s development and economic security. Getting paid to stay home when you’re sick, meanwhile, makes people healthier, since it allows them the time to go to the doctor before they can grow more ill. Workers with paid leave are also less likely to drop out of the labor force altogether, helping businesses to maintain productivity.

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Recognizing this, 186 countries offer paid leave for new mothers (109 have extended that benefit to fathers, too), and 185 countries allow paid leave for a personal health problem, according to the New York Times. The U.S. isn’t totally alone in lacking paid parental leave—Papua New Guinea, the Marshall Islands, and a few other Pacific Island nations are in the same boat—but it’s nonetheless a very, very rich outlier, or, as Sen. Bernie Sanders put it, an “international embarrassment.”

“Failing to pass paid family leave hurts all of us—families and kids and the economy, all of it—but in particular, it's just such a fuck-you to women,” Amanda Litman, the co-founder of Run For Something, which gets young progressives elected to local office, said on Twitter.

Free community college also appears to be off the table in the Build Back Better Act—again, despite the focus on the shortage of skilled trade workers and sharp drop in enrollment at community institutions during the pandemic. 

“To be clear, President Joe Biden *ran* and won on these values. These are the values of the Democratic Party,” Rep. Ilhan Omar, a progressive Minnesotan, said on Twitter. “It is corporate greed, and the lawmakers who serve them, who are betraying the values of our party and the American people.”

Also apparently scrapped: Medicare coverage for vision and dental services. Politico reported that prescription-drug pricing reform is at risk of a similar fate, though Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, another moderate with an outsized amount of power in these negotiations, “struck a deal” with Biden on the issue.