President Donald Trump’s State of The Union Speech Tuesday night included a watershed moment for the Republican Party and the conservative movement.
The Republican president endorsed paid family leave, becoming the latest conservative to embrace the proposal. Social conservatives have long advocated for Republicans to embrace paid family leave, and several proposals have been outlined in recent years. Currently, the U.S. is the only nation in the developed world not to provide guaranteed paid family leave at the federal level. The proposal endorsed by Trump on Tuesday was a bipartisan bill introduced by Republican Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona in the Senate, and Democrat Collin Allred of Texas and Elise Stefanik of New York in the House.
The bill Trump just endorsed
Right now, parents are allowed to claim a $2,000 child tax credit for each child under the age of 18. This plan would allow parents to claim a $5,000 child tax credit upon the birth or adoption of their first child, while subtracting $500 for each additional child over the next ten years. The legislation should have broad appeal considering it’s pro-family, fiscally responsible, and now has been endorsed by the president. It’s a relatively modest proposal, but one that could pay dividends for families across the country, and serve as a political winner for the president as he prepares to face voters in November. (RELATED: How Students For Trump Hopes To Boost The President In 2020)
“It’s a great bill. It’s the best that’s come out,” Terry Schilling, Executive Director of the American Principles Project told the Daily Caller. “It doesn’t create any new entitlements. It doesn’t add any new taxes. It doesn’t add anything to the debt.”
Some have criticized the proposal for borrowing from future tax credits, but Schilling believes the bill is a net positive for American families.
“At the end of the day, they just doubled the child tax credit, so you’re still getting more money than you did before Trump was elected,” Schilling said.
The other Republican proposal
Another piece of legislation was proposed last year by Republican Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, and Marco Rubio of Florida, alongside Republican Reps. Ann Wagner of Missouri and Dan Crenshaw of Texas. The New Parent Act would allow parents to claim paid family leave for up to three months, by borrowing from their social security account. This bill is similar to several Rubio proposals that also proposed drawing from future entitlement benefits to make having kids affordable now. Rubio’s proposals have been criticized by some pundits for borrowing from social security. (RELATED: Marco Rubio Rebukes Democrats’ Attempt To Get Rid Of The Electoral College)
“There’s just no appetite to touch social security,” Schilling said. “The arguments are sound, but the political will is just not there.”
Should the GOP go even bigger?
Other conservatives have proposed more aggressive family support policies that so far have not been embraced by elected Republicans. Conservative writers Gladden Pappin and Maria Molla proposed direct payments to parents with children, in order to greater incentivize adults to have more children.
“We propose a family-oriented stipend program with two components. FamilyPay, which will be a straightforward cash transfer; and CarePoints, which will be credits that can be used for purchasing items relevant to childcare and child developments,” the authors write. “The FamilyPay system and its accompanying CarePoints assistance program will be designed to support sustainable family formation, with declining incremental benefits after the third child.”
Democrats have traditionally supported paid family leave, pushing policies that would guarantee 12 or more weeks of paid leave, but those proposals are unlikely to draw support from conservatives, who traditionally oppose significant spending increases, and new welfare programs. The Romney-Rubio and Cassidy-Sinema proposals both provide Republicans in Congress with a path to embracing mandated paid family leave, without violating their stated principles of fiscal responsibility.
“The Democrats have plans, but those all raise taxes. All the Democrat plans would raise payroll taxes, which would be a disaster for the working class,” Schilling said.
While zero Democrats have signed on to the Romney-Rubio proposal, the Cassidy-Sinema proposal has the support of several big names, including Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, Republican Montana Sen. Steve Daines, Democratic New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer, former Democrat-turned Republican Jeff Van Drew, also of New Jersey, and now of course the president himself. The president’s endorsement of the proposal has largely flown under the radar in post-State of The Union coverage, but it could end up being one of the biggest stories of his presidency if he follows through. If Trump is able to spearhead a paid family leave proposal into law, it could pay dividends for him electorally, galvanizing his support among social conservatives, and in middle America, where it’s become harder and harder to start families. (RELATED: Colleges And Universities Are Creating A Lost Generation Of Americans)
“I think it could be hugely beneficial to his election result,” Schilling said. “It could help brand Trump as the most pro-family president.”
The decline of the American family has been one of the most startling phenomena of the past 60 years. In 1960, 72% of American adults were married. That number now sits around 55%, according to 2017 Census data. Due to factors such as debt and drugs, there are more unmarried adults living in America now than ever before. Not coincidentally, the suicide rate among young adults has risen by more than 50% over the past decade. That these tragedies are occurring at the same time as the U.S. is in the midst of historic economic growth has fundamentally changed the way many on the right think about economics, and its a major reason why the conservative movement has seemingly embraced policies such as paid family leave. After all, how can a pro-family movement and a pro-family party be satisfied with an economy where so many Americans can’t afford to have families?
“It’s a travesty because the reason we work, the reason we buy homes, the reason we exist is to have families,” Schilling said.
The American family has been on the decline for decades, but conservatives are now on the front lines in the fight for paid family leave. The president’s endorsement in front of a national audience made that clear. But the legislative future of paid family leave in a divided Congress remains uncertain.