Paid family and medical leave is no longer included in the Democrats’ massive spending bill, three Democratic aides tell TIME.
The popular provision appears to be among the first major policies to be excised from the Build Back Better framework—a major blow to both President Joe Biden, who made the issue a central campaign promise, and to Democrats’ progressive base.
The provision was saved Wednesday by a few Democratic lawmakers. However, aides provided reasons why it seemed to be dead. The policy, while earning the support of nearly three-fourths of Americans, was never a top priority in either the Senate or at the White House, and key supporters, like the Democratic Women’s Caucus, failed to engage moderate House Democrats on its importance until too late.
Initial plans by Democrats called for 12-weeks of paid sick and family leave. The plan was intended to offer all full-time workers the option to take up to 12 weeks of leave—either for the birth or adoption of a child, or for a qualifying medical event for oneself or a close relative. Paid leave seems to be gone as Democrats struggle to reduce the spending bill to $3.5 trillion to win support from Kyrsten Sinema, Arizona Senator.
House Democrats, headed by House Democrats like Rosa DeLauro (Rep.), Chrissy Houlahan (Rep.) and Don BeyerMoms Rising has been fighting for paid family leave for many months, and they have been joined by other advocacy groups such as Moms Rising. DeLauro, Houlahan Say they kept in touch with each other about the provision and advocated for it in White House meetings. DeLauro Houlahan, Beyer and Beyer on Oct. 19. Help Organise A letterThe White House received a signed petition from 105 House members urging Biden to get involved. You can find more information hereAssistance paid leave—if even in some less generous form.
According to two Democratic aides, one way to cut back on the paid leave was to provide the parental leave only to the parents of children who have just had their first child. Other Hail Mary suggestionsAccording to the aids,The paid leave provision was reduced from 12 to 4 weeks. However, it would still be available to both parents and caregivers. To speak openly and honestly about sensitive legislative negotiations, the aides requested anonymity.
The policy was not made more feasible by the reduced offerings. A House aid explained that, despite Wide support for paid time offIt was a failure among House Democrats because of its opposition to other priorities like universal child-care in the Senate or the White House. “It really is a top-tier issue with the House,” says one House Democratic aide. “We have never had the sense that it was at that level of importance for either the White House or [Senate Majority Leader] Chuck Schumer.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who alongside Rep. DeLauro, has championed national paid leave bills for close to a decade, was the Senate’s most outspoken advocate. “I’ve met with Senator Manchin several times to see where we can find common ground [on paid leave],” she told TIME Wednesday morning. “I’ve been in contact with the White House. I’ve made sure that there are staff-level meetings happening. And I’ve been talking to my colleagues one-on-one whenever we have minute to connect in their hideaways or on the floor of the Senate. I am doing everything I can to get to Senator Manchin to yes.”
Many advocates worry the Democrats’ everything-but-the-kitchen-sink spending bill is the last real opportunity to pass paid leave, given narrow majorities in the House and Senate and the looming 2022 midterms. “My view is that we should not let this moment pass because it will not come around again,” DeLauro told TIME Wednesday afternoon.
Longstanding dubious distinction has been earned by the United States of America of not allowing parents of newborn infants to take paid, government-mandated leave.
On Wednesday evening Gillibrand, Houlahan and Houlahan both refused to accept defeat. “Until the bill is printed, I will continue working to include paid leave in the Build Back Better plan,” Gillibrand said in a press release Wednesday night.
Houlahan told TIME that she plans to keep pushing for paid leave until she gets an order “to stand down from somebody with a credible authority.”
“It’s not dead,” she added, “until it’s dead.”