Marco Rubio has spent years trying to distinguish himself as the lonely Republican working to extend paid leave at the federal level, but for some reason is unwilling to have this eventual policy look like the state-level programs that are already working quite well. (Or maybe even funding a universal program with resources that the federal government currently diverts to the wealthiest people in the United States, if you can imagine such a thing.)
In 2015, Rubio proposed a fully voluntary program that would offer employers a 25 percent tax credit for offering four weeks of paid leave. Problem was, that kind of policy would largely replicate patterns we already see from existing market-based incentives.
“Right now, the U.S. doesn’t require it by law, and neither does this proposal. It’s just an incentive,” Terri Boyer, former executive director of the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University, told me at the time. “In the U.S., there are a number of workers who get paid family leave, but they get it through their employers, and they’re usually higher paid professional workers or workers at larger companies. So when I hear something like a tax credit, I think it’s really just going to provide further financial backing to these companies that have the deeper pockets in the first place.”
This time around, the Florida Republican has taken an interest in a conservative proposal to allow parents to borrow against their retirement in order to stay home with their children.
Rubio has barely started crafting a paid leave bill, much less a broader legislative strategy. But he envisions an idea that has recently gained traction in conservative circles: allowing people to draw Social Security benefits when they want to take time off for a new baby or other family-related matters, and then delay their checks when they hit retirement age.
For instance, a person who would begin receiving full benefits when he or she turns 67 years old but wants to take six weeks of paid leave wouldn’t draw Social Security checks until six weeks after his or her 67th birthday.
“That’s a new idea for Republicans who still identify it as something that comes out of the left,” Rubio said of paid family leave. “Forcing companies to provide it is perhaps an idea that finds its genesis on the left, but the notion that pregnancy should not be a bankruptcy-eliciting event is one that I think all Americans should be supportive.”
“Seems like a bit of robbing Peter to pay Paul,” says Karen White, director of the Working Families Program at the Center for Women and Work. And “we already have programs that work really well.”
Rubio is nowhere close to introducing this as an actual policy, but even in broad strokes, White was suspicious of a plan to tie paid leave to Social Security.
“The devil will be in the details,” she says. “You have to qualify for Social Security, you have to work so many quarters to qualify. What impact does that have on workers? And they’re going to give you six weeks at the rate of pay you’re making now versus what you might be making in 50 years? I mean, c’mon. Is it job protected? Are people assured they will have their jobs when they return to work?”
There is no reason to tie paid leave to Social Security, so of course Ivanka Trump is interested in hearing more.