Republicans finally have a paid family leave proposal. Here's how it works.

How the GOP family leave proposal works

Last Updated Mar 13, 2019 7:51 AM EDT

Republican Senators Joni Ernst and Mike Lee are unveiling a new proposal for paid family leave. The Cradle Act would allow new parents to tap into their Social Security savings, and later delay their retirement, to take paid time off after the birth or adoption of a child.

"I think most people would look at this as an opportunity that they might not otherwise have, an opportunity to benefit from payments that they've been making already for years," Lee told CBS News chief congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes. 

ctm-0312-ernst-and-lee.jpg
Republican Sens. Joni Ernst and Mike Lee  CBS News

"Why is the U.S. so far behind the rest of the industrialized world on this issue?" Cordes asked.

"I think that is a really great question and that's why we have decided now is the time to step up and really do something about this," Ernst said. "We think it's time to catch up with other countries."

The Cradle Act, which is being praised by Ivanka Trump, joins bills by Republicans and Democrats to address a problem that lawmakers agree urgently needs a solution.

It's been more than 25 years since Congress passed the last piece of family leave legislation. The U.S. remains the only industrialized nation in the world without it. In that time, dozens of companies have put their own policies in place and lawmakers on both sides agree that parental leave is key to a baby's health and well-being. They just have to find a solution.

Tuesday's announcement by Senators Ernst and Lee added two more Republican voices to a debate long dominated by the left, giving both sides hope that this year will be different.

President Trump has even championed the issue at the urging of his daughter, Ivanka. Proponents think her interest could help push a compromise across the finish line – the way her husband's passion for criminal justice reform did last December.

Republicans Ernst and Lee call their proposal the Cradle Act. It would allow new parents to use their own social security savings to help finance time off.

"So you can take one, two or three months of parental leave and as a consequence of that, choose to delay your retirement date by two, four or six months," Lee said.

In its current form, the proposal would not apply to caring for a sick relative or parent.  

"Right now it just applies to the adoption of a child or the birth of a child. We are very focused on parental leave," Ernst said. 

Democrats have a different proposal. Their Family Act would institute a small payroll tax to provide up to 12 weeks to care for any loved one. They say the GOP plan "creates a false choice" between retirement savings and paid leave – a characterization both Ernst and Lee disagree with. 

"I mean, you say that to anyone who would have the opportunity to use this. That would be news to them," Sen. Lee said. 

"A lot of folks will focus on, 'Oh, the end, the retirement age.' But often times we don't talk about that baby," Ernst said. "It is important that we focus on that too, and not just think about, 'Maybe I'm going to have to work another month or two or three.' But focus on the benefits that will come to that child as well." 

Ernst believes the bill could have a lifelong impact on children.

So far, Ivanka Trump has remained neutral, withholding support from any specific plan. But with Republicans and Democrats both talking about this issue for the first time, there is new hope some sort of compromise can be reached. In the meantime, more than a dozen states have proposed paid leave legislation, keeping pressure on Congress.

The question is can the two sides find a compromise? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told CBS News it's too early to say whether he is committed to holding a vote on paid family leave this year. It just depends on what his  colleagues come up with.