Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters, June 10, 2014.
Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Mitch McConnell’s old, new agenda

The headline on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) USA Today op-ed came as something of a surprise: “Mitch McConnell: Unemployed Americans need action.”
 
Why, yes, actually they do. Does that mean the Republicans’ Senate leader is prepared to champion jobless benefits? No, McConnell doesn’t mean that kind of action. Does it mean the GOP incumbent intends to fight for greater investment in infrastructure and education? No, he doesn’t mean that kind of action, either.
 
As it happens, McConnell, who opposed even modest, bipartisan measures like the Family and Medical Leave Act, has a different platform in mind.
Today, millions of Americans remain unemployed. But even for those lucky enough to have a job, things have never seemed tougher. Outdated policies diminish opportunities in the workplace, leaving many torn between the demands of work and family. And between car payments, a mortgage, out-of-control tuition, and the rising energy and medical costs many face, there’s often little left for anything else.
 
Easing this middle-class squeeze is a top priority for Republicans.
That all sounds quite nice, doesn’t it? McConnell, who’s made repealing health care benefits for working families a top priority, added that he wants to ease the middle-class squeeze by moving past “the failed policies of the past and toward the actual needs and realities of today’s working families.”
 
OK, but what kind of policy would address the actual needs and realities of today’s working families?
One bill I recently introduced with Sen. Ayotte, the Family Friendly and Workplace Flexibility Act, would help Americans better balance the demands of work and family by allowing workers to take time off as a form of overtime compensation. It’s an idea that’s tailored to the needs of the modern workforce, it’s something a lot of working men and women say they want, and there’s no reason not to provide a little more flexibility to working families.
Wait, this again? McConnell wants to forgo “the failed policies of the past” by pushing a hand-me-down plan that Newt Gingrich couldn’t pass 20 years ago?
 
As for the substance, Alex Seitz-Wald had a good report on this in Salon a while back:
What labor advocates are more concerned about is that the bill supposedly aimed at helping working families might actually hurt them by undermining the 40-hour work week and “increasing overtime hours for those who don’t want them and cutting pay for those who do,” as Center for Economic and Policy Research economist Eileen Appelbaum wrote. The National Partnership for Women and Families said the “mis-named Working Families Flexibility Act will mean a pay cut for workers without any guaranteed flexibility or time off.” […]
 
In Cantor’s “Making Life Work” speech in February, he explained that, “In 1985, Congress passed a law that gave state and municipal employees this flexibility, but today still denies that same privilege to the entire private sector. That’s not right.” But that move was to cut costs for government, not provide workers with more freedom, Judith Lichtman of the National Partnership for Women And Families told the AP. And government employees generally have the protection of both a union and civil service laws.
 
And as Ezra Klein noted, if the problem is that working parents don’t have enough free time with their kids, then why not give them more by guaranteeing paid vacation days to employees? The U.S. is the only developed country that doesn’t have a law ensuring all workers get vacations, thanks to fervent opposition from Republicans and corporate interests. “Instead, Cantor is saying that the way to solve the problem of working parents not having enough time with their kids is to give them an incentive to work more overtime,” Klein wrote.
The White House last year warned President Obama would veto such a policy if it reached his desk, not because he’s wedded to ”the failed policies of the past,” but because this old Gingrich idea doesn’t really have any merit.
 
If, however, McConnell is serious about “easing this middle-class squeeze,” I suspect Democrats would be eager to talk with him about paid maternity or paternity leave, paid family and sick leave, expanded access to affordable child care, higher wages, and universal pre-K.
 
I have a hunch, however, that McConnell wouldn’t be interested, his op-ed notwithstanding.
 
 

Mitch McConnell

Mitch McConnell's old, new agenda