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Rubio unveils a family-leave plan with some dramatic flaws

Marco Rubio's "Economic Security for New Parents Act" is less of a pro-family policy and more of a loan from you to you.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks at the Hudson Institute May 10, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks at the Hudson Institute May 10, 2016 in Washington, DC.

On the surface, Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) "Economic Security for New Parents Act" might seem like a step in the right direction. The Florida Republican's new proposal, unveiled yesterday, is intended to provide all new parents with two months of paid leave time to care for their new children.

Under the plan, new parents making up to $70,000 would get two months of benefits, which would total roughly 70% of their existing income. The trick is where the money would come from.

Would Rubio pay for the benefits with new taxes? Maybe another round of GOP deficit spending? Perhaps cuts to a massive Pentagon budget? No, as it turns out, the senator's plan effectively offers new parents an opportunity to borrow the money from themselves. The Washington Post  reported:

Rubio's bill would allow parents of newborns to receive a Social Security benefit paying a portion of their wages for at least two months. Later in life, they would delay the date at which they begin receiving Social Security retirement benefits to make up for the amount withdrawn during their leave.

In other words, instead of creating a proper system of paid family leave -- such as the systems that already exist throughout most of the Western world -- Rubio envisions a process in which new parents borrow money from their own Social Security benefits.

This makes it less of a pro-family policy and more of a loan.

"If someone has a better idea that doesn't involve raising taxes, we'll be interested in it," Rubio told the HuffPost.

That framing tells us everything we need to know about contemporary Republican policymaking: Rubio wants to do something to help people, but not if it means anyone has to pay any additional taxes. Giving new parents a hand is a priority, but tax breaks for the wealthy is a higher priority.

Let's not forget that Marco Rubio, more than most congressional Republicans, wasn't thrilled with his party's recent regressive tax breaks. The Floridian has conceded that the policy -- which he voted for -- "isn't going to create dramatic economic growth," adding that the GOP "probably went too far" in delivering massive tax breaks to big corporations.

We could scale back some of those overly generous tax breaks -- the ones that won't "create dramatic economic growth" -- and provide real benefits to those who'd benefit from paid family leave, but Rubio has already taken that option off the table.

Let's also note that the family-leave debate isn't limited to new parents: many of those seeking the benefits care for ailing family members. Rubio's plan leaves them behind.

In this year's State of the Union address. Donald Trump devoted exactly one line to the issue, telling lawmakers, "Let us support working families by supporting paid family leave."

If his vision is anything like Rubio's, no one should expect any progress on this anytime soon.