Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced on Wednesday that paid leave will be included in the Democrats’ reconciliation bill after having been excluded earlier in a compromise draft of the legislation.
In a “Dear Colleague” letter, Pelosi discussed the progress made in advancing the bill over the past week.
She said of the $1.75 trillion compromise bill, “While it was a reduction in dollars from the original $3.5 trillion package, it was not a reduction in values.”
However, for many Democrats, it was a reduction in values.
Since the White House announced the deal Thursday, progressives have demanded that paid family leave be included in the final draft, and have continued to threaten to tank the moderate-preferred infrastructure bill if their demands are not met.
Pelosi acquiesced to these demands, writing “I have asked the Ways and Means Committee for its legislation for Paid Family and Medical Leave to be included in [the Ways and Means] hearing.”
Pelosi applauded the change, saying “Today is another momentous day in our historic effort to make the future better for the American people, For The Children, to Build Back Better With Women, to save the planet.”
Manchin Gives Proposed Measure a Lukewarm Response
However, Democrats have a long way to go before they can pass a paid leave program.
The plan’s steepest challenge will come from the Senate, where several Democrat lawmakers are far more cautious and calculating than their colleagues in the House. Because Democrats hold the thinnest-possible majority in the upper chamber, they must have every single member on board in order to pass the legislation.
Since the reconciliation process began, moderates across the Senate have expressed reservations on various proposals from their colleagues. But Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has been the hardest among these moderates to convince.
Manchin, a self-described “conservative Democrat” has stalled Democrats for months. In September, Manchin said he would not vote for a $3.5 trillion bill. After the bill’s price tag was cut in half, Manchin has continued to oppose climate, tax, and social policies put forward by his party.
Paid leave is among those issues, according to Manchin.
Asked whether he would support the paid leave program, Manchin replied evasively “Well, that’s a challenge. Very much of a challenge, and they know how I feel about that.”
Manchin said that he supports the concept of paid leave, but said that government-funded paid leave will add more to the debt, which has been a primary concern for Manchin during negotiations over the budget.
“I want to support paid leave, I want to do it in a bipartisan way,” Manchin insisted. “I’ve talked to [Republican] Susan Collins, I’ve talked to colleagues on both sides. We both think something could be done. Let’s do that in a proper way.”
Manchin said that Democrats are “trying to force it through reconciliation, which has guard rails and rules and regulations.” Manchin says he opposes this course.
“Let’s do it and do it right and not do it in [reconciliation],” Manchin pleaded.
Manchin later clarified, “I think [reconciliation] is the wrong place to put [a paid leave program] because it’s a social expansion.” Such an expansion is ill-timed, said Manchin, referencing the high U.S. deficit and concerns that Medicare and social security will become insolvent.
“Now we’re talking about expanding [social programs] we can’t even pay for now,” Manchin asserted.
Manchin gave a hint of how he would institute a paid leave program. Rather than government-funded paid leave, Manchin called for an optional paid leave program that employees would pay into, much like social security or a 401k.
“I think that basically employers and employees should participate,” he argued.
This lukewarm response by Manchin is a bad sign for Democrats as they continue to try and strengthen the social provisions in the compromise budget. Ultimately, Democrats will not be able to include the provision in the final bill without a thumbs-up from the Senate, and that thumbs-up could be a challenging one to win.