WASHINGTON , -- Since 1992, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington has been fighting for paid medical and family leave. She seemed to be winning for much of the year.
A proposal championed President Joe Biden -- 12 weeks of paid time off to care for family members, recover from major illnesses, childbirth, or take care of their children -- was dropped this week from a broad-reaching social spending package. It was rejected by Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat.
Murray and other female veterans lawmakers are feeling the pain of this defeat.
She stated that "we are not going to let one man tell all the women in the country that they can’t have paid leave," before heading to the Senate to lobby the 74-year old Manchin.
Although all Senate Republicans have expressed opposition to the larger package of legislation, Democrats still need to get every member to support it for the 50-50 Senate to pass. Paid leave was absent from Thursday's White House release of the framework for the legislation.
Molly Day, executive director of Paid Leave for America, said that it was "outlandish and shameful" to have the plan removed from the legislation. "We believe that we have all the momentum necessary to pass this at this time," said Molly Day, executive director of Paid Leave for the United States.
Democrats are excited about the many other components of the package that help families. They include universal preschool and money for child care.
Supporters who have worked for years to get the United States up to par with the rest of the wealthy world are now feeling the pinch. According to an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development study, 35 countries did not offer any parental leave. Advocates argue that this need is more urgent due to the devastating coronavirus pandemic, which has affected many workers, particularly women caregivers.
After a lengthy series of negotiations, the proposal was finally eliminated. It had been reduced from 12 to four weeks and then renegotiated to include leave for new parents. The various proposals have cost between $100 billion and $500 billion. This was a significant obstacle because Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democratic senator, demanded that the $3.5 trillion original package be reduced by half.
New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who is a negotiator for the paid leave proposal, stated Thursday that she was still in contact with Manchin to discuss how a leave policy can be saved. Gillibrand stated that Manchin had told her in private that he was concerned about the cost of the paid leave and its impact on Social Security. She also said that Gillibrand has argued that paying for paid leave increases the chance that parents and caregivers will return work, which could boost Social Security and the economy.
She said that Manchin is not "focused on specifics" at the moment. His office didn't respond to a request for comment on the talks.
Gillibrand stated, "This will be a constant conversation." It would be amazing if we could get it in this agreement. If not, I will continue to work on it until paid leave is granted.
Rosa DeLauro, Chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee from Connecticut, has been in Congress for more than 30 years. She was first employed as a Senate staffer on medical and family leave in the late 1980s. As a first step, she supported President Bill Clinton's 1993 Family Medical Leave Act, which allowed time off and no pay.
She claims she has been on this road since then, pushing for compensation from the government.
DeLauro called the proposal's removal a "tragedy", but said it was still a victory that they came so close and that many states and companies now have paid leave policies. Last year's bill providing pandemic assistance also provided temporary guaranteed for paid sick leave for millions.
DeLauro stated that it took them 28 years to reach this point, since the passage FMLA. "Lord knows that we won't wait another 28 years to get it done," DeLauro said.
Maya RossinSlater, a Stanford University associate professor in Health Policy who studies paid leave agrees. She says she is optimistic about the "conversation that has been taking place" and the national attention that this issue has received after Biden made it part of his proposal.
Rossin-Slater stated that "it's not going away" and that it was now on peoples' radars as an important issue.
Jen Psaki, White House Press Secretary, said Wednesday that Biden had fought for inclusion. She said that he was not going to see the plan fail because of it.
She stated that her preference was for it to be extended for 12 weeks, but Congress did not have enough votes. She said, "That's a fact of legislating."
The issue is personal for many female senators. Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth (Democrat) was the first senator in Illinois to have a baby while serving. She has argued that every senator should get the same paid leave as she did as a senator.
Murray also talked about her 1993 pregnancy, which was the year she gave her first Senate floor speech praising FMLA. Murray spoke about caring for her parents when they were sick, and how she helped a friend who was struggling to get time off because their son was dying from leukemia. Murray stated that the new law would not force people to choose between their job and their family when they go to work.
Murray stated that it was "downright shameful," that America is the only industrialized nation in which workers aren't guaranteed paid leave.
She stated, "I believe I've made it abundantly obvious that I'm going all out to get paid leave included."