Sen. Marco Rubio has introduced a paid-leave bill that would allow parents to collect Social Security benefits following the arrival of a new child, even if those parents are not retired.
The benefits would be used to finance time away from work, and parents collecting them would be required to delay receiving Social Security payments by several months once they reach normal retirement age.
While some on the right, including my colleague Ramesh Ponnuru, are supportive, Rubio is taking heat from many conservatives (including from me). The Florida Republican argues that the bill wouldn’t “expand government,” because it is designed not to increase federal spending over the long term, but merely shifts when spending occurs across a person’s life.
I’m not sold that spending won’t go up, but let’s leave that aside. It still seems that the bill would expand government in scope, even if not in scale. There is not currently a federal program for paid parental leave, but there would be if this bill were enacted.
Some supporters of the bill argue that it would add flexibility to Social Security, not expand it. It’s even been described as a Social Security “reform.” This characterization — reform and flexibility — is appealing to many conservatives. But if this is the goal, then the Rubio bill does not go far enough. I have two suggestions to improve it.
The claim that the bill does not increase federal spending requires believing that paid leave benefits taken today will be paid back with delayed receipt of retirement benefits decades from now. This invites my first suggestion: Make sure spending doesn’t increase by coupling any paid-leave benefit with actual cost-saving measures to Social Security as a whole.
The Congressional Budget Office calculates that linking initial Social Security benefits to average prices rather than average wages would save $114 billion over 10 years. Reducing payments by 5% for new beneficiaries would save $105 billion over a decade.
But if we’re cutting, then I’d favor making Social Security relatively less generous for high-income households. In a 2016 report on reducing the deficit, the Congressional Budget Office presents a way to make Social Security more progressive while also reducing 10-year spending by $36 billion.