Federal Employees Closer To Paid Parental Leave
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning.
Lawmakers probably would agree that it's probably a good thing for new parents to have time to bond with their newborns. What they don't agree on is whether employers should be required to pay for that time. Still, the House of Representatives passed a bill last night that would give a federal employee with a new child four weeks off, paid. This bill would apply only to federal government workers, but both sides of the debate - for and against - are looking to the same future, that the idea might be extended to the private sector. NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports.
ANDREA SEABROOK: By law, most U.S. workers can take up to 12 weeks off for the birth or adoption of a child, but employers don't have to pay for any of that. Workers can use their own sick and vacation time if they have any, or they can take unpaid leave. Now, if this bill becomes law, federal employees would get paid for the first four weeks of their time off and then could use their own leave to pay for the rest.
California Democrat Dennis Cardoza shepherded the bill through the House.
Representative DENNIS CARDOZA (Democrat, California): This is the right thing to do for our country. It's the right thing to do for our kids. I believe in it profoundly. Money spent in this area is money well spent, and will pay dividends many times over in the future.
SEABROOK: Members of the military already get six paid weeks off for a new mother, 10 days for a father. And it would seem the idea would be somewhat bipartisan. Virginia Republican Frank Wolf spoke passionately.
Representative FRANK WOLF (Republican, Virginia): At the initial moment of birth, when the mother breathes on the baby, the bonding process begins. It begins. Those early days, weeks, are absolutely, positively critical.
SEABROOK: But there was a lot more passion among Republicans against the idea.
Representative PETE SESSIONS (Republican, Texas): Maybe we just ought to let federal employees take 16 years off.
SEABROOK: Republican Pete Sessions of Texas.
Rep. SESSIONS: Hello. Hello. Wake up, Washington. We're in a recession, and somebody else is going to have to pay for this.
SEABROOK: Sessions and others pointed to the bill's cost. It would add about $100 million over five years to what the federal workforce already costs. They also argued it sends a bad message to expand government workers' benefits while so many Americans are losing jobs. But the concern lurking behind Sessions and other opponents' speeches was what this bill might trigger later.
Rep. SESSIONS: Madam Speaker, in closing I'd like to reiterate the horrible precedent that I think this legislation sets.
SEABROOK: The fight here is really about whether Congress might mandate four weeks of paid leave for all American workers in the future. After all, the federal government is the largest employer in the United States, with 1.8 million workers, so it sets a tone. And Democrats didn't argue that point. It's what some of them want, like California's Cardoza.
Rep. CARDOZA: We can start with having the federal government lead by example to set the stage for making changes across the table. To paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi, we must be the change we wish to see in this world.
SEABROOK: In the end, there was some measure of bipartisanship. Twenty-four Republicans joined most of the Democrats, and the bill passed the House by a vote of 258 to 154, and one vote of present.
Next stop for the bill is the Senate. Meanwhile, supporters hope House passage last night will get the issue bubbling outside of the government.
Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.
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