Gitis acknowledged that he could face criticism for the benefit’s resemblance to an entitlement program. “That is a genuine concern that conservatives would have,” he told me, while emphasizing that the plan was much less costly than the Family Act. “If we’re looking for something that is beneficial specifically for low-income Americans who are least likely to have access to paid family leave through the private sector and most likely to need something like that because they won’t have sufficient funds saved up themselves, this is one solution.”
The plan drew swift rebuke from another conservative group, the Club for Growth. “This is social engineering through the tax code,” said Andy Roth, the Club’s vice president for government affairs. “The federal government should not be involved. Instead, it should be left up to the states. If paid family leave is worth having, then the states that offer it should experience an influx of new people who are attracted to ‘employee-friendly’ programs. This kind of ‘voting with your feet’ is healthy, and it will foster competition among the states that will likely lead to the best policy possible.”
Jason Pye, a spokesman for FreedomWorks, said it was “a bad idea to create a new program or tax credit” given the federal budget deficit, which is back on the rise. “We have to get a handle on spending growth before we start talking about new and costly programs,” Pye said in response to the AAF paper.
The highest-ranking Republican in Congress, Representative Cathy McMorris-Rodgers of Washington state, didn’t criticize the plan but wouldn’t endorse it, either. McMorris-Rodgers is chairwoman of the House Republican conference and has the distinction of being the first woman to give birth three times while serving in Congress. “We need to come together on a solution that will support working families so they can provide for their family and grow in their careers,” she said in a statement. “Proposals like AAF's open the door to new conversations, and I appreciate their work to put this issue at the forefront of our national conversation about the future of the workforce and economy.”
Gitis contrasted his proposal with bills proposed by congressional Republicans that would either allow people to collect leave time instead of overtime pay or offer companies a tax credit if they provided at least two weeks of paid leave to employees. In 2015, just 12 percent of private-sector workers had access to paid leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “While these proposals would certainly be more cost efficient than the Family Act,” Gitis wrote of the GOP bills, “there is no convincing evidence that they would effectively expand access to paid family leave for low-income workers.” On Monday, Trump said in an economic speech in Detroit that he would propose allowing families to deduct the average cost of child care from their taxes. But as economists pointed out, the people who would benefit the most would be those who make the most money, because they spend more on child care and would therefore get a bigger tax deduction.