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Trump Touts ‘Pro-Worker’ Agenda, Backs Paid Leave Bill (1)

Feb. 5, 2020, 3:32 AMUpdated: Feb. 5, 2020, 5:12 PM

President Donald Trump hailed his administration’s “pro-worker” agenda and for the first time called on Congress to pass specific legislation to create a national paid family leave program in his latest State of the Union address.

“In just three short years, we have shattered the mentality of American decline, and we have rejected the downsizing of America’s destiny,” Trump said in remarks to Congress Feb. 4. He said the administration has helped reduce unemployment in part by slashing “job killing regulations.”

The president also called on lawmakers to pass the Advancing Support for Working Families Act (S. 2976), sponsored by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). The measure would use a tax credit to extend paid leave benefits to private sector workers.

Trump previously signaled support for paid leave generally, but had yet to back any particular bill. In the address to Congress, he highlighted a recently signed law offering paid family and medical leave benefits to federal employees.

“I was recently proud to sign the law providing new parents in the federal workforce paid family leave, serving as a model for the rest of the country,” Trump said.

Trump’s support for the Cassidy-Sinema bill comes as lawmakers have yet to come to a consensus on paid leave. Debates on Capitol Hill have focused on who should pick up the tab for workers who take time off for family or medical reasons.

Job Numbers, Wages

Trump in the annual speech said the country is experiencing a “blue collar boom,” pointing to the nation’s declining unemployment numbers.

“After decades of flat and falling incomes, wages are rising fast—and, wonderfully, they are rising fastest for low-income workers, who have seen a 16 percent pay-increase since my election,” he said.

The jobless rate held steady at 3.5% in December, remaining at the lowest level in more than a decade. The unemployment rate among black and Latino workers is also at its lowest level in more than 10 years.

But dwindling unemployment has not coaxed workers sitting on the sidelines back into the labor market. The labor participation rate—which tracks workers who are employed or actively seeking work—has remained at 63%, down only slightly since 2009.

The Democrat-controlled House has passed several pieces of worker-friendly legislation, including a bill to raise the federal minimum wage (H.R. 582) to $15 an hour. That bill and other measures to bolster workers rights have languished in the GOP-majority Senate.

Trump lauded his administration’s “pro-worker” policies just days before the House is set to take up the union-backed Protecting the Right to Organize Act (H.R. 2474), which proposes sweeping changes to federal labor law. It is widely opposed by business groups and is expected to be dead on arrival in the Senate.

Paid Leave

The move to secure paid leave for federal government employees was included in a defense spending bill that Trump signed into law last year. Federal workers covered by Family and Medical Leave Act now get up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave in connection with the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child.

The president said previously he supports a broader, nationwide paid family leave program for private-sector workers—an issue his daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump has championed.

The Cassidy-Sinema bill, currently pending in Congress, would give a $5,000 advance to new parents through the child tax credit. It has been criticized by some worker advocates who say it only provides some financing to new parents.

Cassidy told reporters after the address tat he’s pushing for a hearing on the bill. He said Senate Finance Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) wants the Congressional Budget Office to perform a financial analysis of the measure, known as a score, before bringing it before the committee.

“Once we have it scored then obviously we see if we can’t get a vote on it,” Cassidy said.

Vicki Shabo, a senior fellow focusing on paid leave policy at New America, said the proposal would offer a loan, rather than a paid leave benefit.

“It is a no-interest loan to new parents,” and it offers no guarantee they are able to take time away from work, she said. “And it requires the very same cash-strapped people who will most need income support when a new child arrives to repay the loan over 10 to 15 years.”

Shabo supports the Democratic-led FAMILY Act (H.R. 1185), which would create a federal paid family and medical leave social-insurance program funded through a payroll tax. The proposal has one Republican listed as a cosponsor, Rep. Chris Smith (N.J.).

The White House has previously resisted endorsing any particular paid-leave approach, urging Congress generally to reach a bipartisan agreement. There are a variety of proposals working their way through the House and Senate.

Alternative Republican proposals that also have received some attention include measures that would give new parents early access to Social Security benefits in exchange for delayed or reduced retirement benefits.

Aparna Mathur, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said the Cassidy-Sinema approach is likely to get more support from Republicans who may be wary about draining Social Security benefits. That’s not to mention the bump from Trump.

The president’s comments suggest “the White House is now going to get more active in actually pushing forward this piece of legislation,” Mathur said.

(Updates Feb. 4 story with additional reporting.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Jaclyn Diaz in Washington at jdiaz@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bloomberglaw.com