Over at the New York Times, Jen Senior has an interesting piece on the disparity between the generous maternity leave benefits GOP senators offer their own staff versus their present position on expanding paid leave to private workers.
Senior wrote all 100 Senate offices, asking each how they handled parental leave. Though only 26 offices responded, Senior notes that:
...Virtually all of the respondents — 15 Democrats, two independents and nine Republicans — said they provided paid leave of some kind. What this means, practically speaking, is that all of them go above and beyond what the Family and Medical Leave Act requires — (12 weeks of unpaid leave, assuming both employee and employer meet the requirements).
Senior found that Republican senators have virtually the same paid parental leave policies as their Democratic counterparts. For example: Marco Rubio (FL) offers 12 weeks of paid maternity leave and 6 of paid paternity leave. Rubio's policy is identical to "unabashed socialist" Bernie Sanders (VT). Similarly Mike Enzi's (WY) policy is identical to Barbara Boxer's (CA) and "the Mississippi Republican Thad Cochran goes further than the Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill."
In other words, when confronted with the life challenges of their own personnel, these elected officials all believe paid compensation is in order.
One might expect this from Democrats, who, as a matter of principle, believe that governments have an obligation to care for their citizenry when the free market fails to do so. But it's more surprising from Republicans, who generally speaking, do not. The question is, why?
She posed that question to Senator Deb Fischer of Nebraska, who told the Times that there's a vast difference between the government suggesting that employers do something and the government requiring it. Fischer said that she decided to set hiring money aside for parental leave, "it means making cuts elsewhere — cutting the number of people we hire over all, or the travel my staff is able to do." Fischer added that "it's up to businesses to make that decision."
It's a stock and trade answer for Republicans — leave it up to business, the private sector knows what it's doing, etc. But Senior makes an excellent point: "The problem is that we, as a nation, have been running this experiment for decades now, and the verdict is clear: Without government assistance — or nudging — most businesses will never feel the obligation to pay for family leave on their own. "
At any rate, it's worth reading Senior's piece in whole, it's both a case study on the current state of Republican ideology and a primer on why parental leave policies for private employees are unlikely to change.