Cassidy

Sen. Bill Cassidy speaking with a crowd of local residents and leaders in Opelousas on Monday afternoon.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy readily admits the paid family leave proposal he plans to file this week isn't "perfect," as does his Democratic co-sponsor U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.

But the Baton Rouge Republican and Sinema argued the case to a conservative think tank on Wednesday that it's perhaps the best shot of getting a policy passed in the current divided Congress.

“It’s the only proposal in either chamber to have bipartisan support," Sinema, of Arizona, told the standing-room-only crowd at the American Enterprise Institute. “Legislation that is supported by members of only one party has zero chances of making it to the president’s desk.”

The proposal leans on the federal Child Tax Credit that was doubled under the 2018 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. It would allow parents to get a $5,000 advance on the credit when a child is born or adopted. For the following 10 years, those parents would be eligible for a $1,500 Child Tax Credit, instead of the $2,000 credit otherwise allowed.

“The chief criticism we get is that our proposal isn’t perfect," said Cassidy. "But it is a good solution.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 84 percent of private industry workers in the United State do not have access to paid family leave benefits. A Pew Research Survey in 2017 found broad bipartisan support for paid family leave but significantly less support across both parties for those programs to be funded by state or federal taxpayers. And nearly half say that they disagree with a federal mandate that would require employers to provide family leave benefits.

That's left some looking for alternative proposals like the Cassidy-Sinema plan.

Other lawmakers have floated proposals to increase payroll taxes to provide for family leave or allow people to borrow from earned benefits, such as Social Security. The Cassidy-Sinema bill is the only one with bipartisan support, and it's generating interest beyond the walls of the U.S. Capitol.

But it's not without its critics. Some advocates have already pointed out that, by relying on the child tax credit, it doesn't cover leave that people may need in order to take care of a sick adult relative or for their own leave when they are ill.

Aparna Mathur, resident scholar in economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, said people working on paid family leave didn’t expect to see the idea prompt bipartisan discussions like Cassidy-Sinema this quickly.

“I think we shouldn’t lose track of the larger picture,” she said. “It’s picking up so much steam thanks to efforts like these.”

“This, in my view, is real cause for celebration,” Mathur added.

The credit under Cassidy's proposal could be used to supplement pay for parents who take time off work after the birth or adoption of a child, to offset infant care costs or for any other child necessities.

Low-income families that don’t qualify for the max Child Tax Credit and would be burdened by the $500 annual installment would alternately be able to receive the real equivalent of three months of their existing pay and receive an appropriately adjusted credit for 15 years.

Whether the proposal will gain traction in the current political environment remains to be seen. The issue has been a priority for the White House, as well as Democrats, who control the House. But the divided U.S. Congress has found little room for agreement and the 2020 election cycle threatens progress on even key priorities.

But Cassidy and Sinema said they hear enough about the importance of the issue that they hope lawmakers will take the proposal seriously.

“Our constituents just want a proposal that is going to help them and their families," Sinema said. “They’re interested in finding a solution that not only is a good solution but possible in the political world we live in today.”

Email Elizabeth Crisp at ecrisp@theadvocate.com and follow on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.