Bipartisan paid family leave effort ramps up in the House. Will it work?


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In today’s edition …  Inside the White House document strategy and its pitfalls … 2024 Senate map is a GOP dream. But candidate strength is unsettled … Abortion foes prepare for their first March for Life, post-Roe … What we’re watching: The debt limit … House Republican sustains unspecified injuries, unclear how long he’ll be out … but first …

Bipartisan paid family leave effort ramps up in the House. Will it work?

A bipartisan group of House members, led by Reps. Stephanie I. Bice (R-Okla.) and Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.), are hoping to defy the odds and move the country closer to a national paid leave program.

  • “When you find somebody across the aisle who doesn’t dismiss you out of hand, then that’s a treasure, you know, that’s somebody to hold on to. And so I think that that’s kind of how we found each other on this,” Houlahan said of Bice.

Next week Houlahan and Bice will announce the formation of a new task force that will also include Reps. Julia Letlow (R-La.), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-Iowa), Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) and Colin Allred (D-Tex.).

Letlow, the first Republican woman elected to Congress from Louisiana and a mother of two young children, whose husband died of covid in 2020 just days before being sworn into office, was invited by Bice, as was Miller-Meeks. Allred has had two children since he was elected to Congress and has taken two parental leaves. 

The group will hold their first meeting Feb. 7, hours before President Biden delivers his State of the Union address.

Years of incremental progress

With House Republicans focused on spending cuts and shrinking the government, passing significant paid leave legislation is a daunting task.

“Of course I worry about that,” Houlahan said.

Houlahan and Bice said they are under no illusions about how hard enacting any paid leave legislation will be. So far they have no firm goals and are reluctant to talk about what they’d like to see as the end product of their working group. 

They will study past efforts and the success of state programs. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have passed paid family leave laws, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center.

  • One-quarter of all U.S. workers have access to paid family leave from their employer, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Advocates plan to celebrate the upcoming 30th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act, which was the first time some workers’ jobs would be protected for taking unpaid leave due to the birth of a child or other qualified medical or family reasons.

Efforts to enhance those protections to include paid leave have been slow-moving and incremental.

  • Houlahan was instrumental in passing a bill in 2019 that gave federal employees paid family leave. Bice wasn’t in office at the time, but she points to the 2017 tax cut bill that gave employers who offer paid leave a tax credit as an example of progress. The two partnered up in the House Armed Services Committee to attach a provision to an annual defense policy bill last year that provided paid leave and postpartum support for mothers in the military.

Democrats have long championed a government-funded paid leave program while the few Republicans who have embraced the idea have favored providing tax incentives. There have also been proposals to create an initiative modeled after Social Security in which workers pay into the program.

Still, advocates see an opening for progress. Republicans’ push to brand the GOP as the party of the American worker has led some conservative lawmakers to adopt a more populist tone.

During the lead-up to a possible rail strike in the fall, a handful of Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), sided with workers’ demand for paid sick leave.

But House Republicans have since embraced fiscal austerity and a smaller government, illustrated by the demands imposed on Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in his battle to become speaker of the House.

The employment challenges that started during the pandemic have led to more corporate engagement on the issue. Houlahan said that after word got out about the creation of the task force, AARP, small businesses and large corporations have reached out to get involved in the process.

Executives from Etsy spent a day on Capitol Hill in December in part to discuss paid leave, which they said is a critical issue for their 5 million micro entrepreneurs in every state across the country who use their platform to sell their goods.

“About a fifth of our sellers have said that access to paid leave is one of the top barriers to their ability to successfully grow their business,” said Raina Moskowitz, Etsy’s chief operating officer. “The government plays an important role or should play an important role in making sure that they have access to the resources and paid leave policies that they need to be successful and thrive.”

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Tune in to Washington Post Live today at 1 p.m. Eastern, when Leigh Ann will interview Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) about how she wants her party to govern. It will be good. Mace doesn’t mince words. 

Inside the White House document strategy and its pitfalls

Our colleagues Matt Viser, Tyler Pager, Carol D. Leonnig and Yasmeen Abutaleb trace the White House’s steps following the discovery of a set of classified documents at the Penn Biden Center in Washington and how it led to the formation of a special counsel.

71 days ago: “In mid-November, in a communication that has not previously been reported, a senior official in the Justice Department’s national security division wrote a letter to Bob Bauer, Biden’s personal attorney, asking for his cooperation with the department’s inquiry,” our colleagues write. “The Justice official asked specifically that Biden’s legal team secure the materials from the Penn Biden Center and refrain from further reviewing them or other relevant documents that might be stored at different locations, according to the letter.”

  • “The Justice official also requested that Bauer give the Justice Department formal consent to review the Penn Biden materials, and that he provide a list of other locations where relevant materials might be stored as the department weighted the proper protocols for future document searches.”
  • “That letter, with its implication that the Justice Department would take the lead in the inquiry, paved the way for the Biden team’s approach: They adopted a strategy of caution and deference, making only limited moves in coordination with federal investigators to determine the number of documents involved, their significance and how they were mishandled.”
  • “They hoped that would earn the trust of investigators, avoid comparisons with former president Donald Trump, who is under federal criminal investigation for his own mishandling of classified materials, and end the matter quickly; instead, it yielded a political firestorm and repeated accusations of obfuscation, and instead of a speedy resolution, they now face a special counsel probe.”

2024 Senate map is a GOP dream. But candidate strength is unsettled.

GOP dreams and nightmares: “The 2024 Senate map offers Republicans the chance to redeem themselves after an underwhelming 2022 performance that ended with their minority shrinking, as voters rejected untested GOP candidates who espoused far-right positions,” our colleagues Liz Goodwin and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez report. “Party leaders have signaled they’re willing to take a more aggressive approach to box out candidates they deem less electable in primaries this time around — even if it puts them in conflict with Trump.”

“The emerging landscape points to potential decisions on the horizon about if and how to intervene in battleground contests,” Liz and Yvonne write. “Democrats are defending a 51-49 majority in 2024 and will be trying to safeguard far more endangered seats than the GOP.”

  • Arizona: “Defeated gubernatorial candidate and former TV newscaster Kari Lake is considering running for the Senate seat held by independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema,” a person familiar with the discussions told our colleagues. “Blake Masters, the venture capitalist who lost the Senate race to Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly in November, told The Washington Post he is also ‘seriously’ weighing another bid.”
  • Montana: “National Republicans have said they think Rep. Matthew M. Rosendale (R) could end up running for the Senate seat held by Democrat Jon Tester.”
  • Indiana: “The Republican primary for departing GOP Sen. Mike Braun’s seat could shape up as a MAGA vs. establishment showdown, after Rep. Jim Banks (R) announced his intention to run and the conservative PAC Club for Growth warned former governor Mitch Daniels, an establishment favorite, against jumping into the race in an ad buy suggesting he is past his prime.”

Abortion foes prepare for their first March for Life, post-Roe

Happening tomorrow: “Friday marks the first March for Life since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade,” our colleague Rachel Roubein writes. But instead of going straight to the Supreme Court, abortion protesters will “walk past the U.S. Capitol — a route modification acknowledging that Congress is a new locus in the abortion wars, now that the court has granted their long-standing plea to end a pregnant woman’s right to end her pregnancy.”

  • “Antiabortion leaders want to mark the moment with a strong showing of unity. But simmering just below the surface are divisions on the path forward among Republicans, state and congressional lawmakers, and those within the movement — discord that’s expected to once again explode into the public spotlight as federal and state legislative sessions kick into overdrive later this year.”
  • “Leaders maintain there’s consensus around the goal of stopping as many abortions as possible, but some concede there is disagreement on the path to get there.”

The federal government is expected to hit the debt limit today, according to a letter Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen sent to lawmakers last week. There won’t be an immediate impact because the department can take “extraordinary measures” for the next few months — until June, Yellen predicted — to ensure the federal government can continue to pay its bills.

Nevertheless, we’ll be watching how members of Congress react — especially Republicans who have pledged they won’t vote to raise the debt ceiling unless Democrats agree to concessions. The White House says it won’t agree to any preconditions for lifting the limit, but Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) defied the party line on Wednesday in an appearance on Fox Business by voicing support for tying the debt limit to the creation of a commission to examine how to shore up Social Security and other programs.

One Republican, meanwhile, Rep. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), said Tuesday that he didn’t support raising the debt limit at all:

Will any other Republicans follow his lead?

House Republican sustains unspecified injuries

Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) “sustained several injuries” on Wednesday afternoon in an accident on his property, according to his office. A spokesperson declined Wednesday night to provide further details.

We’re pulling for Steube’s quick recovery, but the incident is another reminder that even a handful of absences can affect the balance of power in a closely divided chamber — as the Senate demonstrated again and again over the past two years. 

Some lawmakers were temporarily absent earlier this month during votes for speaker, causing headaches for GOP leadership. And several House Republicans have called for Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) to resign as more evidence has come out about his serial deceptions while running for office, making it unclear how long he can hang on to his seat. 

In Michigan, Democratic women are rising. Now some are weighing a Senate run.

Is the future female? “When Democrat Debbie Stabenow began her political career in 1974, fewer women were running for office,” our colleague Colby Itkowitz writes.

  • “Nearly half a century later, Stabenow — who won that county election and went on to become the first woman to represent Michigan in the U.S. Senate — is retiring from Congress. Her decision has set off a scramble for her seat in a state where Democratic women have become a dominant political force, propelled by a new generation of officeholders.”
  • “Several prominent Democratic women are now deciding whether to run for the seat in 2024. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, 46, is moving swiftly toward a run, calling party leaders across the state to tout her victories in hard-fought House races as evidence of her ability to win statewide … Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, 45, who became the face of Michigan’s defense against Trump’s false claims in 2020 that the presidency had been stolen from him, is looking at the race … So are Democratic Reps. Haley Stevens, 39, and Debbie Dingell, 69.”

Twins! 🧑‍🤝‍🧑

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