Aparna Mathur is a Resident Scholar, Economic Policy, at the American Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank with an excellent kitchen that I periodically visit when I want to save money on lunch or cocktails. If you’re ever in DC I strongly recommend visiting their events page to see if you can enjoy one of their catered meals or open bars.
Scholar Mathur has recently focused her residency on the question of paid parental leave in the United States, as in a recent blog post, “The Birth of a Compromise on Paid Parental Leave” (get it, “birth?”).
As she and her co-authors write, “history shows that when both sides express a willingness to compromise, great policies can emerge. Our elected officials are now facing one such historic opportunity. It is time for them to pass legislation that creates a national paid parental leave program.”
The question, as Napoleon famously asked about the pope, is “how many divisions does the AEI-Brookings Paid Leave Working group have?” More to the point, how many votes do they have?
Ted Cruz and the amazing vanishing immigration vote
The year was 2013, and after years of gridlock, Democratic and Republican moderates in the Senate had hammered out an immigration compromise that included border enforcement, changes to future immigrant flows, and legal status for long-time US residents. The bill quickly ran into a problem: the Texas Senator, and Canada native, Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz.
Cruz, the son of Cuban revolutionary Rafael Bienvenido Cruz y Díaz, was concerned that the bill as drafted would allow long-time undocumented residents of the United States to receive permanent resident status and, eventually, US citizenship like his and his father’s (n.b.: his mother was born in Delaware, so while he immigrated to the US from Canada at a young age he enjoyed US citizenship from birth).
What followed was a grueling rearguard action as Cruz moved heaven and earth to try to block newly normalized permanent residents from any so-called “path to citizenship.” Unable to sway his colleagues, he was forced to vote, more in sadness than in anger, against final passage of the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.”
At least until the 2016 primaries came around, when Ted 2.0 was launched, and much to the surprise of his colleagues and constituents, it turned out he had been opposed to the law all along, whether or not it included a path to citizenship. Incredulous reporters went back and checked the tapes, and found out Cruz had masterfully outplayed them in 2013: it turned out Cruz had never made his vote conditional on removing a path to citizenship from the bill. Indeed, it soon became clear his vote was never in play.
To take one of literally hundreds of examples, on May 21 Cruz introduced an amendment to remove the path to citizenship, saying, “I don’t want immigration reform to fail. I want immigration reform to pass. And so I would urge people of good faith on both sides of the aisle, if the objective is to pass common-sense immigration reform that secures the borders, that improves legal immigration, and that allows those who are here illegally to come in out of the shadows, then we should look for areas of bipartisan agreement and compromise to come together. And this amendment—I believe if this amendment were to pass, the chances of this bill passing into law would increase dramatically” (emphasis mine).
Now, you or I might look at this statement and conclude that Ted Cruz, someone who says they want immigration reform to pass, but who can’t vote for a bill that includes a path to citizenship, and is proposing an amendment to remove a path to citizenship, is saying that he will vote for the bill if the amendment passes.
But Ted Cruz never said that. In 2016, the trap was sprung: Cruz revealed that he had been opposed to immigration reform all along, and that his amendments were intended solely to reduce the bill’s chance of passing, and to weaken it in case it did.
Olympia Snowe and the amazing vanishing healthcare vote
If you’ll step into my time machine yet again, let’s return to 2009, when Democrats held a filibuster-proof majority in the United States Senate. Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana and chair of the Senate Finance Committee, had been holding months of hearings and closed-door sessions in an effort to get three Finance Republicans on board with healthcare reform: Mike Enzi, Chuck Grassley, and Olympia Snowe.
After months of wrangling, the death of Senator Ted Kennedy, the seating of Al Franken, and Arlen Specter’s frantic last-minute party switch, all three Republicans voted against cloture and against final passage of the Affordable Care Act.
Paul Ryan and the amazing vanishing Earned Income Credit expansion
Before he decided to retire to spend more time with the Koch brothers’ money, Paul Ryan reinvented himself in office one last time: as an anti-poverty champion. The so-called “Better Way” Republican agenda, launched in the summer of 2016, included an anti-poverty program (available for now at the Internet Archive). That document contains the following enigmatic paragraph:
“The Earned Income Tax Credit is another potential solution. The EITC is a refundable credit available to low-income workers with dependent children as well as certain low-income workers without children. It can help with the transition because it increases the financial rewards of work. Increasing the EITC would help smooth the glide path from welfare to work.”
Fortunately, on other occasions Paul Ryan has written more extensively about his support for Earned Income Credit expansion. In a 2014 “discussion draft” for the House Budget Committee, he wrote:
“there’s a growing consensus to expand the EITC for childless workers…Given the EITC’s success in boosting work among families with children, a larger EITC should have a similar effect on childless workers. Given these troubling trends for young workers, there is a real need to consider lowering the age of eligibility for the EITC, which currently does not serve this population…Because the EITC helps low-income households while encouraging work, this proposal would expand the credit for childless workers. Specifically, it would double the maximum credit, phase-in, and phase-out rates for childless adults, and it would lower the eligibility age for workers from 25 to 21, assuming they are not a dependent or qualifying child for another taxpayer.”
If you knew nothing else about Paul Ryan, you might conclude from this evidence that he supports an expansion of the Earned Income Credit for childless workers.
But since you are reading this today, you know that would be wrong. When offered the opportunity to pass changes to the tax code that could increase the deficit by a total of up to $1.5 trillion over the 10-year budget window, i.e., the changes did not have to be paid for as long as they were not scored as increasing the deficit by more than that amount in that period, Paul Ryan did not lower the eligibility age for the Earned Income Credit. He did not double the maximum credit, nor the phase-in, nor the phase-out rates for childless adults. He did not expand the Earned Income Credit at all.
That is because Paul Ryan does not, and never did, in fact support an expansion of the Earned Income Credit. Paul Ryan was lying.
In a roundabout way, this brings us all the way back to Aparna Mathur, whom I asked on Twitter earlier this year, “why do you think Paul Ryan refused to expand the EIC after making it the cornerstone of his woke Republican anti-poverty agenda?.” Aparna Mathur didn’t have me muted back then, so she saw my question and even replied to it:
She. Has. No. Idea. Which tells you almost everything you need to know about Aparna Mathur.
The Republican Party and the amazing vanishing national paid family leave program
Aparna Mathur thinks that the time has come for a national paid parental leave program. I also think the time has come for a national paid parental leave program. The proposal with the most widespread support in Congress today is the FAMILY Act (don’t ask what it stands for), which would create a small additional payroll tax and use those funds to pay for wage replacement for workers who need to take time off to care for a new child or in case of serious illness or injury. It currently has 35 Democratic co-sponsors in the Senate and 178 Democratic co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, and widespread support among Democratic members of Congress.
Unfortunately, Aparna Mathur doesn’t much care for the FAMILY Act. Without meticulous documentation, I can boil down her objections as follows:
- It’s too long. While the FAMILY Act entitles workers to 12 weeks of paid leave, that’s a little bit excessive. Isn’t 8 weeks of leave a bit more realistic?
- It’s too generous. While the FAMILY Act entitles workers to 66% of their weekly pay up to $1,000 per week, that seems like an awful lot of money to give to new parents. Why not limit it to $600?
- It covers too many life events. While new parents surely need some time to bond with their children, there’s no need to pile family and medical leave into the same law. Why not restrict the paid leave benefit to birth and adoption events only?
I think these objections are ridiculous, but this post isn’t about what I do or don’t consider ridiculous. That’s a judgment you have to make for yourself.
This post is about the fact that Aparna Mathur, AEI, and the Brookings Institution don’t have the votes. If Aparna Mathur could come up with 13 Republican Senators willing to vote for a motion to bypass Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and bring this pared-down version of paid parental leave to the floor of the Senate, it would get 47 Democratic votes, and it would pass the House with a comfortable Democratic majority.
But there aren’t 13 Republican Senate votes for a pared-down paid family leave law. There isn’t one Republican vote for a pared-down paid family leave law. There are, currently, maybe 3 votes for a Rubio-style “mortgage your retirement to spend a few weeks with your kids” bill, but there are zero Democratic votes for that idea because it’s terrible.
The point is, there’s no secret backdoor workaround to find Republican votes for compromises, hacks, or kludges. If, like Aparna Mathur, you think “It is time for them to pass legislation that creates a national paid parental leave program,” then you have to support the FAMILY Act. You have to contact your representatives in Congress and demand they support the FAMILY Act. If they refuse, you have to vote against them in your congressional primary, and vote for Democrats in general elections, until you are represented by someone who does support the FAMILY Act.
That’s the entire show. While Aparna Mathur and her colleagues at AEI and Brookings furiously workshop compromises, the one thing they can’t do is provide the votes necessary to pass national paid family leave into law. For that, you need Democrats — and you need a lot of them. Get cracking!