President Biden’s proposal to finance paid parental and family leave is on the chopping block as Democrats plead with Sen. Joe Manchin to help save the Democrats’ domestic agenda.
The plan to establish paid leave was effectively eliminated from Biden’s sprawling social spending bill Wednesday as senior Democrats noted Manchin’s opposition.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) confronted the West Virginia Democrat on the Senate floor, however, and said he agreed to reconsider.
But Manchin — whose vote is needed in the evenly divided Senate — remained skeptical when speaking with reporters after Gillibrand engaged in a private conversation with him.
“To put this in a reconciliation bill, major policies is not the way to do it,” Manchin told reporters. “We have to be careful what we’re doing. And if we do it, do it right.”
In Gillibrand’s version of the conversation, she extracted from Manchin an agreement to look into various options to set up a paid leave program.
“He’s researching what other countries do. He is looking into the details and he said he would remain open-minded,” Gillibrand said.
“I have given many versions of what paid leave could look like to meet what Sen. Manchin would be willing to agree to. He is studying all those proposals now. I’m sending more information to his office. We will continue to negotiate over the week in the days to come.”
On Wednesday afternoon, a source close to talks on the bill said Manchin’s firm opposition to the paid leave provision means it likely will not be in the final bill, despite many members lobbying him to support the measure, which Biden campaigned on.
That source said that Democrats were upset about the loss, which they have found polls well. And Democratic officials fumed as news reports confirmed the state of play.
The news came as Democrats scrambled to reach a deal on the bill before Biden leaves Washington on Thursday for a trip to Europe.
Biden had sought 12 weeks of federally subsidized paid leave for workers to care for new children or sick family members, but the idea had already been scaled back to four weeks before being scrapped altogether on Wednesday.
“It is down to four weeks. And the reason it’s down to four weeks is I can’t get 12 weeks,” Biden said last week during a CNN town hall.
Federal workers currently get 12 weeks of paid parental leave, but private-sector policies on paid leave vary by state and by the employer.
Eliminating paid leave would be a major blow to Biden, who recently has claimed that he can pass a bill that at least gives a start to various progressive programs that later can be expanded.
Free community college also is expected to be cut from the bill and other items, such as an expansion of Medicare programs, remain on the chopping block.
Manchin, meanwhile, has been mercurial in his policy positions, prolonging a final resolution to months of negotiations.
The West Virginia senator separately gave colleagues the impression that he opposed a proposed “billionaire’s tax” on unrealized capital gains of people with either $1 billion in assets or annual income of $100 million — before he clarified Wednesday that he could get behind a new tax policy that adopted a 15 percent minimum tax on billionaires and other high-income people who are able to lower their taxes through deductions and other strategies.
The last-minute wrangling over details in the bill, along with possible tax increases, comes as leftists in the House threaten to torpedo a $1.2 trillion Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill if they don’t get expansive social spending.
Biden’s social spending plan is expected to include roughly $500 billion in environmental funds, though the overall price tag currently is about half of Biden’s initial $3.5 trillion request.
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