A plan approved in the House to convert the 12 unpaid weeks of parental leave available to most federal employees into paid time represents the latest in a long series of attempts to provide that benefit.
Bills to provide paid parental leave to federal workers have been introduced in Congress for many years and one did make substantial progress—in 2008, when the House passed a stand-alone measure to provide four weeks—a number that the Democratic sponsors cut down from the original eight in a bid to draw Republican support.
The Bush administration threatened a veto nonetheless, saying that on average, employees aged 20 to 45—considered the prime years for birth or adoption—have a combined balance of sick and annual leave of more than seven weeks to use for such purposes. It argued that for employees who do not have sufficient paid leave, the better course would be to create a voluntary short term disability insurance program, which would cover parental needs plus other conditions that might cause employees to miss work but that don’t qualify for workers’ compensation benefits.
Following that threat, the Senate never considered the bill. The short-term disability insurance idea also died after OPM sketched the outlines for such a program that it projected would cost enrollees $1,000 a year, with no government contribution.
This year, by attaching it to the must-pass DoD bill, the House would be moving to force the Senate to consider it in a later conference between the two; the Senate already has passed its version of that measure without similar language.