When I asked Pronita Gupta of the Center for Law and Social Policy, an organization that supports policies that help low-income people, whether she saw any downsides to implementing a federally provided paid-family-leave program, she said no.
Even as support for such a policy builds, there are still some who think it’d be unnecessary or even wrongheaded. At a panel discussion on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, scholars from conservative think tanks including the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute debated whether government-provided paid family leave would cost too much, and whether it’s even needed at all.
The Heritage Foundation’s Rachel Greszler came down against government involvement. If taxpayers end up funding some sort of comprehensive paid-leave program, she insisted, “what we will get is less take-home pay for everybody and more intervention in choices that we would rather be making on our own without the government telling us what our options are.”
What would she like to see instead? “Pro-growth policies” like the Trump tax cuts, which she argues led more employers to roll out paid-parental-leave programs. “The more money that you put back in workers’ pockets and in businesses’ revenues, the better able the businesses are to provide paid family leave,” Greszler said during the panel discussion, which was convened by the right-leaning Ethics and Public Policy Center.
Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center, a libertarian think tank, acknowledged that being able to pay everyone to take time off work would be wonderful for families and businesses alike. “Paid leave as a benefit is great. And so [would be] a 25 percent [increase in the] minimum wage—if we live in a world with no costs, no trade-offs, and reality is optional,” she said. Her position was that, though it would be nice if it were possible for everyone to have the option of getting paid family leave, the federal government can’t afford to provide it, because the world isn’t “rainbows and unicorns all the time.”
She, like Greszler, believes that providing leave is best left to employers. “When businesses can afford to give paid leave, they increasingly do so when they feel optimistic about their bottom line,” de Rugy said, citing Target as an example of a company that recently expanded parental-leave benefits for even its part-time and hourly workers.
De Rugy prefers “privately provided policies negotiated between workers and employers based on their own unique needs,” and thinks that while the private sector “could always do better,” it is “doing quite a great job” of providing paid leave to workers.
Of course, not all conservatives feel this way. Also at the panel was Aparna Mathur, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “We cannot stop the conversation at, ‘There are costs, so let’s forget about it,’” she said. To her, a parental-leave policy would expand parents’—particularly women’s—options by reducing the financial pressure to return to work right away. “What’s the larger goal of conservatives? Is it to encourage human economic opportunity, to encourage human flourishing? Or is it just to minimize the size of government?” she asked rhetorically.