Washington — Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said Sunday that "now is the time" for Democrats to implement a national paid leave program for workers, as she seeks to sway fellow Democratic Senatorto back including the policy in President Biden's .
"If your main concern is strengthening social safety nets like Social Security, paid leave is one of the solutions," Gillibrand said in an interview with "Face the Nation." "I'm hopeful that if I can use the next three weeks to really impress upon Senator Manchin that some things can only be done with Democrats only, that now is the only time to do that, perhaps in the next decade."
Gillibrand has been a leading proponent of a paid family and medical leave program and said she has been speaking with Manchin about the terms of a proposal that would garner his support. While Mr. Biden's initial sweeping plan to expand the nation's social safety net included 12 weeks of paid leave, aof his proposal omitted the policy because of objections from Manchin.
The House, though, reinstated a scaled down paid family leave provision — providing four weeks of leave — in its bill, called the Build Back Better Act, whichFriday.
While the legislation that ultimately passes the Senate is expected to differ from the House's bill, Gillibrand said she would be "grateful" if the Senate's version matches the four-week program.
"That would be a great start to have universal paid leave for all people, all workers, and we know paid leave helps people get back to work," she said. "We know if it's parental leave, parents, mothers are 40% more likely to get back to work if they have paid leave, which goes to Senator Manchin's concern that he wants to strengthen our social safety nets. He wants to strengthen Social Security. That's what paid leave does. It gets people back to work. It allows people to stay in the workforce even when there's a family emergency."
Gillibrand said Manchin has "come a long way" in moving toward support of paid leave, but she warned that while the senator from West Virginia is hoping for bipartisan support of such a measure, that is unlikely.
"The bipartisan ideas he has, they will not come to fruition with the Republican senators that are interested in paid leave today because they aren't interested today in a universal plan that's an earned benefit," she said. "So that's why I think for Senator Manchin, now is the time if he has a vision for what he wants to do. Putting it in this Dem-only proposal is the only opportunity in my opinion."
Democrats are using a process called budget reconciliation to fast-track Mr. Biden's social spending and climate change proposal through Congress. The procedure allows the plan to clear the Senate with a simple majority, which requires all 50 Democratic senators to support the spending bill.
Democrats' fragile Senate majority has given Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, a fellow moderate, leverage in negotiations over the details of the legislation, and their opposition to its original $3.5 trillion price tag led the president to scale down his proposal.
Gillibrand said Manchin is "in the driver's seat" of the social spending and climate package, including on how to pay for it, and said if he has a vision for a paid leave benefit, including it in Democrats' legislation is the only way it will be enacted.
"I'm just hopeful that he can remain open minded to include some provisions for paid leave because this is the only moment to get paid leave done," she said.
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