Democrats push for paid family leave before critical votes

Democrats push for paid family leave before critical votes

Washington Long-standing advocates of family and medical leave are scrambling to make sure the long-awaited Democratic priority remains in the massive social and environmental spending bill after it was revived by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But the result is likely to come with the support of one man.

The Democratic senator who opposes including paid time off in the spending package is West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate who has used his influence in the evenly divided chamber to play down some of his party’s most ambitious and costly policy proposals.

Through cable TV ads, in-person conversations in the Senate — even a banner at a West Virginia University football game — Democrats and advocates appeal to Manchin to support the paid leave proposal in the broader $1.85 trillion legislation. Efforts are expected to intensify over the coming days and weeks as the House of Representatives prepares to pass the massive bill and send it to the Senate.

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“For the sake of West Virginia workers, the companies that hire them, and an economic recovery that works for all, Senator Joe Manchin must prioritize passing paid family leave now,” says one of the state’s radio advertisements.

There are no signs yet that the effort has worked at Manchin, and many Democrats are openly pessimistic about the fate of the paid leave proposal. On Sunday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that while she and President Joe Biden support the provision, it “looks like it’s not going to be part of that package.”

The paid leave proposal would bring the United States more in line with the rest of the world’s richer nations, all of which offer some form of paid leave. It will give new parents, caregivers and those recovering from a serious illness four weeks of leave — less than the 12 weeks Biden originally proposed. It would temporarily pay workers a portion of their wages, with those with the lowest incomes getting the highest percentage of their salaries.

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Manchin did not categorically oppose the proposed program. But he made it clear he thought it shouldn’t be part of the larger bill, citing concerns about its $200 billion cost and concerns about Social Security’s long-term solvency. Advocates of the program argue that it will actually increase participants’ return to work and help boost the economy.

Christa Messinger, a recovering opioid addict in West Virginia who used paid leave to get help when she suffered a relapse during the pandemic, emailed Mansion and traveled to Washington to pressure him.

Messinger, who works in Charleston, said in an interview that she probably wouldn’t be alive today if her job hadn’t given her paid time off to get better last year. In an email to Manchin, she noted that more than 1,200 West Virginia people died of overdoses in 2020. She asked him to remember that number “because you’re making excuses for the long-term sustainability of this law.”

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Dawn Huckelbridge of Leave Paid for All, a group that helps organize advocacy efforts in Mansion, says supporters are doing “everything we can” to make sure the Senate bill maintains the policy if it passes the House. After decades of lobbying, “this can’t be the year we fail at this,” Hucklebridge says.

House Democrats, backed by Biden, excluded paid leave language from the spending package in late October after Manchin’s opposition became apparent. But Pelosi reinstated it in the bill on November 3, the day after Democrats lost elections in Virginia and other states. The move was a signal of Democrats’ fears that the party risks alienating voters by not keeping their bold campaign promises.

Pelosi said her message to Manchin is that “with all the respect in the world for the view he represents,” she disagrees with him.

Paid leave “fits very comfortably with childcare, health care, and home care” and other priorities listed in the bill, she said, “and has the full support of our pool.”

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After his revival, Manchin insisted “I’m going to get paid leave” but suggested that it be done outside of the current spending bill, in separate bipartisan legislation.

Fellow Democrats pushed Manchin for weeks to try to get him, especially Senators Patty Murray of Washington and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. Gillibrand said in October that in multiple conversations the West Virginians had asked “good questions” but had “not focused on the details” of the proposal.

Murray was even more outspoken, telling reporters, “We are not going to allow one man to tell all the women in this country that they can’t get paid time off.”

Advocates hope the paid leave proposal is stronger now that he’s dead and Pelosi has brought him back to life.

“This is the one proposal that can touch every family in America,” says Vicki Chabo of New America, a left-leaning think tank. “The fact that it was pulled and brought back only shows that there is real hunger and a need for paid leave.”

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In West Virginia, supporters hope to gain the attention of Manchin and his constituents, who live in one of the poorest states in the country.

The banner at the football match on October 30 read “All paid vacation.” It is unclear if Manchin, the team’s former quarterback, has seen it.

“WVUfootball was an underdog today but got a winning score in the fourth quarter,” tweeted Paid Leave Works for West Virginia, the coalition of small businesses and nonprofits in the state that is pushing for the policy. “paidleaveWV will leave everything on the field as well.”

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Associated Press congressional correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

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