Paid family leave to be added back to Biden’s Build Back Better plan after backlash

Passing legislation to establish paid family leave benefit would fulfil a major campaign promise made by Biden

Andrew Feinberg
Washington, DC
,Eric Garcia
Wednesday 03 November 2021 14:42 EDT
Meghan Markle Encourages Staff Working for Paid Family Leave

House speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats’ plan for paid family leave will be added back into President Biden’s signature “Build Back Better” legislation after its removal sparked a backlash from progressive Democrats.

In a letter sent Wednesday to members of the House Democratic caucus, Ms Pelosi said the proposal for family and medical leave will be included in the legislative text to be considered by the House Rules Committee, but stressed that anything that is put up for a vote on the House floor must have support from all 50 Democratic senators.

“It had been my intention throughout this process to put on the House Floor and pass a bill that would pass the Senate in the same form. Because I have been informed by a Senator of opposition to a few of the priorities contained in our bill and because we must have legislation agreed to by the House and the Senate in the final version of the Build Back Better Act that we will send to the President’s desk, we must strive to find common ground in the legislation,” she wrote.

“As we are reviewing priorities and at the urging of many Members of the Caucus, I have asked the Ways and Means Committee for its legislation for Paid Family and Medical Leave to be included in this morning’s hearing.”

Passing legislation to establish a paid family leave benefit would fulfil a major campaign promise made by Mr Biden and his allies. The US is an outlier among advanced western economies in not guaranteeing paid family leave.

The proposal at issue is the brainchild of representative Richard Neal, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, but was previously dropped from the Democrats’ agenda amid opposition from West Virginia senator Joe Manchin, sparking backlash from House progressives such as Missouri’s Cori Bush, who earlier this week called Mr Manchin’s stance “anti-Black... anti-brown... anti-immigrant... anti-child” and “anti-woman”.

Mr Manchin said he had not heard about the proposal until reporters told him.

“I’ve been discussing it all the time with everybody,” he told The Independent.

Female senators including Sens Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Patty Murray of Washington and Mazie Hirono confronted Mr Manchin on the floor of the Senate last week about his opposition. Ms Gillibrand expressed optimism after Ms Pelosi released the proposal.

“I think it’s a strong proposal having a permanent universal paid leave plan, even at four weeks, is extremely strong and is great base at which to build over many years and I think it’s a statement that the speaker and the House believe it’s essential for the economy to recover,” she said.

Ms Gillibrand said she has been discussing Mr Manchin about paid leave.

“He’s still very open to paid leave,” Ms Gillibrand told reporters. “He supports paid leave, it’s just a question of how it’s framed and how it works and I think as he continues to learn more and more about paid leave and about how it’s so important to the economy, I think we’re making progress.”

Ms Hirono said she was pleased and would like the proposal to be in the Senate bill as well.

“I am not optimistic but I am – this is what I’d like to see,” she told The Independent.

The possibility that Democrats would pass Build Back Better without paid leave also drew the attention of Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, who in an open letter last month urged senators to support paid leave as a way of healing “long-existing fault lines in our communities” exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Duchess, a US citizen by birth, also personally engaged with Ms Gillibrand in a phone call, during which she lobbied Ms Gillibrand to continue to push for the plan’s inclusion.

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