As you’d expect, the speaker of the House of Representatives and the vice president were seated behind President Donald Trump during the State of the Union address last month, nodding, clapping and rising to their feet. One moment, though, was different.
When the president called for helping “working families by supporting paid family leave,” Speaker Paul Ryan and Vice President Mike Pence remained seated, unable to muster enthusiasm. Republicans have traditionally opposed government-provided paid leave, which their reticence reflected. But the Trump administration, led by first daughter Ivanka, is trying to change that.
The State of the Union speech breathed new life into the idea, along with a compelling proposal to fund paid leave without — its advocates claim — burdening employers, reducing job opportunities for women or increasing taxes. The idea is simple and elegant: Allow new parents to collect early Social Security benefits after the arrival of a child, provided that they are willing to delay collecting benefits when they begin their retirement decades into the future.
Consider a 26-year-old new mother with five years of work experience earning $31,100 per year. Under this plan, she could receive 12 weeks of paid leave, at a rate of close to $300 per week. In exchange, she would delay claiming retirement benefits by about six weeks.
This idea is gaining traction. Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican, is working with Ivanka Trump on drafting a bill. Earlier this week, two other Republican senators, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Mike Lee of Utah, discussed the plan in a press call hosted by the Independent Women’s Forum, which first outlined the new approach. Some prominent conservative intellectuals are also getting behind the idea.
To its designers’ credit, this is the best federal paid-leave proposal being discussed. My Bloomberg View colleague Ramesh Ponnuru agrees, writing that he hasn’t “seen a better plan.” Its underlying philosophy — that society should invest more in the young and less in retired individuals — is sound.
But it’s still a bad idea.
Spending on Social Security is projected to rise by 1.5 percentage points of annual economic output over the next three decades. Policy should be focused on decreasing projected spending to preserve Social Security for future generations. Social Security spending needs to be cut, not redirected.
And one wonders what else Congress might want to finance using future Social Security benefits if a family-leave plan creates that possibility.