Ivanka Trump struggles to move needle on paid leave

After meeting this week with House and Senate Republicans, Ivanka Trump is no closer to finding a sponsor for her paid leave proposal than when it was proposed in the administration budget last month.

The plan would be a tough sell even for a seasoned politician, which the president’s daughter is not, or in an administration more accustomed than President Donald Trump’s to collaborating closely with Congress. Requiring employers to offer six weeks’ paid leave has little appeal to most Republicans, and limiting the plan to new parents could be a deal-breaker for Democrats.

Trump has said that she’s open to changes, including scrapping the administration plan altogether and starting over. But “any kind of mandate is a nonstarter,” said a Republican congressional aide.

The White House and key Republicans in Congress say it’s still early in the process. “We know how hard it is going to be,” one White House official said. “Nobody has been able to get it done before, but we are committed to it.”

Two meetings this week — one on the House side with Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and about 20 other members; the other on the Senate side with Sens. Marco Rubio (D-Fla.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and a handful of others — yielded little agreement other than to keep working.

At the Senate meeting, Fischer pitched Trump on her bill to provide tax credits to companies that offer paid leave voluntarily. That would stand a better chance of winning Republican support, but it would fall well short of what the administration plan proposes. And even Fischer’s plan went nowhere when proposed previously.

Rubio is working on an expanded child tax credit that was discussed at length in this week’s Senate meeting. Some Republicans favor that approach, saying it addresses related issues for self-employed people and small business owners who might otherwise be excluded from a paid leave plan.

“It’s a lot more broad to address the underlying issue,” said one Republican congressional aide who opposes paid leave. The aide said he expected that the president’s daughter would eventually back away from a mandate and embrace the idea of a tax credit.

Rubio, who supported Fischer’s paid leave proposal during his campaign for president and has not endorsed Trump’s plan, said he doesn’t see the two approaches as mutually exclusive. “I wouldn’t view this as just one issue,” Rubio said. “Paid family leave is a part of it — I would view it broader, as what does pro-family tax reform look like?”

But it’s hard to imagine paid leave passing without any Democratic support — and Democrats insist on a mandate, not a tax break.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced a bill earlier this year that would provide 12 weeks’ leave, not just for new parents but also for those dealing with medical emergencies. Last month, the conservative American Enterprise Institute and liberal Brookings Institution released a compromise proposal that called for eight weeks’ paid leave for new parents.

Both plans would be funded through an employee payroll tax rather than through the state unemployment insurance program, as Trump’s plan proposes.

“She’s very passionate about the topic,” said Isabel Sawhill, a senior fellow for the Brookings Institution who met with the president’s daughter for an hour and a half ahead of the Brookings-AEI release. “She said she was very well open to some kind of plan, that she wasn’t wedded at all to what was in the budget.”

Aparna Mathur, a scholar for the American Enterprise Institute who was also in the room, said Trump even hinted she might support a farther-reaching proposal. “Ivanka’s point was that we should consider leave for other reasons, for other kinds of illnesses or sick parents,” Mathur said. “They would try to make it slightly more expansive and slightly more generous than what we have.”

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