Just over the last week, President Obama unveiled two major new policy priorities, which will be pillars of his State of the Union address: free community college tuition and an expansive broadband initiative. The rollouts were a reminder that the president hasn’t just shaken off the midterm results; he actually seems to have become more ambitious in recent months.
Any other big ideas before Tuesday’s national address? How about paid family leave? From msnbc’s Irin Carmon’s report:
The Obama administration is taking its longstanding push for paid sick days and parental leave to the next level. The White House [announced] Thursday the president’s renewed support for legislation for up to seven paid sick days and call for new funds for states to develop their own programs.The U.S. lags behind every other developed country in the world when it comes to time off for family or medical reasons, including maternity leave.
That’s not an exaggeration. Literally every major economy on the planet guarantees at least some paid leave for workers – except the United States.
And with that in mind, Obama is throwing his support behind the “Healthy Families Act,” which would prove up to seven paid sick days a year for all American workers – a benefit more than 40 million Americans currently lack – and create “a $2 billion incentive fund to help states pay for family leave programs.”
To be sure, Democrats have pushed this legislation before, and given Republican control of Congress, it’s extremely unlikely to advance anytime soon. But the president’s renewed support is intended to increase the pressure – the onus should be on GOP policymakers to explain why paid leave is a luxury American workers don’t deserve – even while taking other steps in this area:
The president can’t himself grant paid leave to all workers in the US, but he can grant it to federal workers – he will sign a memorandum on Thursday to give six weeks of family leave allowing federal workers to care for new children or sick family members. He’s also proposing that Congress do the same for its workers.The White House argues that paid leave laws haven’t kept pace with the changing US workforce, which includes more women (and more single parents) than in prior decades. The White House also characterized the steps as a way of boosting productivity and keeping worker turnover low.
Remember all the chatter in the immediate aftermath of the 2014 midterms, about the president being a “lame-duck”? Obama was supposed to quietly slink into irrelevance, looking for new ways to make Republicans happy, giving up on progressive ideas altogether.
Clearly, the White House has a different approach in mind.