The Republican Party simply does not believe in using government to help the common man. They have no problem passing a multi-billion dollar increase in spending for the already bloated Department of Defense, or an unpaid tax cut for the rich that will raise the deficit to $1 trillion by the end of Trump’s first term, but the moment a waitress making $30,000 a year wants to take time off to care for her newborn baby, the Republican Party turns into fiscal hawks. They’d rather she sell her kidneys for baby formula than cut a smidgen of the military budget. You may think I’m being hyperbolic, but that’s basically the message communicated in this new policy proposed by the GOP, especially when compared to their cavalier attitude towards their deficit-financed tax cuts for the rich. Per CNBC:
Some Republicans are considering legislation that would allow people to borrow from their future Social Security benefits to pay for time off from work after they have a baby.
A new analysis by The Urban Institute, a policy research group, finds that such a law could risk sending Americans into retirement with less money.
“This plan seemed too good to be true, and it probably is,” said Richard Johnson, director of the program on retirement policy at the Urban Institute.
The details of the paid leave proposal are still thin, but it would allow new parents to take an early withdrawal from their Social Security benefits to pay for 12 weeks off from work after they’ve had a baby. In exchange, they’d have to agree to defer the collection of Social Security payments later in their life.
Just two countries out of 180 analyzed by the United Nations do not offer cash benefits to women when they have a baby: Papua New Guinea and the United States. Thanks to the psychosis of the Republican Party when it comes to social programs, we are the world’s richest country who acts like a poor one. Well, unless we must spend money on programs that benefit our oligarchs (like bombs or tax cuts), then cost is of no concern. But new mothers who need baby formula? They must take retirement money that they have already invested in order to pay for basic needs.
There is a lot of confusion surrounding Social Security—partially thanks to a Republican-led messaging campaign denigrating America’s most successful social insurance program—and this has resulted in a minefield of nonsense to navigate around this government benefit. It’s not an “entitlement,” like the Republicans frame it, as 12.4% of every paycheck goes to your social security benefits—with half of that figure paid by you and the other half by your employer. It is an investment, and the reptiles in the GOP want new parents to dip into their retirement funds to pay for benefits that quite literally the rest of the developed world already gives their citizens.
One glance at public opinion polls demonstrates the uphill battle the GOP faces (which is likely why none of the backers of this bill had the guts to forcefully put their names behind this, and instead leaked the proposal as something of a trial balloon). Roughly eight in ten Americans support paid leave for mothers following the birth or adoption of a child. About seven in ten support the same program for new fathers. The GOP is trying to do something that many people want, but in true Republican fashion, they’re paying for it in a manner that most people do not agree with. According to Gallup, 51% of Americans would rather raise taxes to ensure Social Security’s long-term future, compared to 37% who want to curb its benefits. There is very little popular will to cut Social Security in order to “save” Social Security, let alone using it as a piggy-bank to pay for stuff that the government should already cover.
The Urban Institute calculated that a parent taking one 12-week paid leave would be forced to delay their Social Security checks by 20 to 25 weeks, reducing their lifetime benefits by three percent. If someone has more than one kid, that figure continues to rise—as four 12-week leaves would slash your Social Security benefits by ten percent. The GOP has decided that it’s more important for new parents to drain their retirement savings to pay for their newborns than to ask the richest among us to share the burden. Not to mention, this isn’t the only GOP proposal like this. Tom Garrett (R-VA) introduced a bill that allows for $550 in student loan forgiveness in exchange for delaying Social Security checks by a month. The average student debt burden is $30,100 per borrower—meaning that in order to forgive the entirety of it, a student would have to delay their social security checks by four and a half years. Using the Urban Institute’s numbers, that means the average student borrower would forgo over a quarter of their Social Security benefits in return for student debt forgiveness.
Time will only tell whether this proposal becomes law. The fact that no one is willing to firmly put their name behind it may be proof of how radioactive the GOP believes their idea is, but that hasn’t stopped them from passing unpopular legislation before (just look at the tax cuts they recently passed). This idea was initially proposed by the Independent Women’s Forum—a conservative think tank—and CNBC reports that “It has since garnered the attention of at least three Republican senators — Joni Ernst of Iowa, Mike Lee of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida.” Mike Lee’s communication director told CNBC, “Paid family leave is a vital issue for every young American family. He is currently working with Senators Rubio and Ernst on turning Independent Women’s Forum’s policy idea into actual legislation.” If this bill makes it to the floor, make sure to call your Congressmen and let them know that if the Republican Party wants to do something to benefit the populace, they’ll have to fund it the way that developed countries do.
You wouldn’t know it from the way Republicans talk about the budget, but America is a rich nation. We have the largest economy in the world by a factor of nearly two. Our GDP is $19 trillion per year—seven trillion more than China’s artificially inflated figure coming in at second place. We can pay for programs that benefit the populace, but the GOP has injected this Ayn Randian poisonous dogma into our political debates, and every Very Serious Person asserts that we are on the path to financial ruin thanks to spending on social programs. However, this concern evaporates the moment we enter the world of military equipment.
The GOP’s new 2018 budget authorized an extra $2.9 billion to buy 20 more F-35s (on top of the 70 the Pentagon asked for). The F-35 is a fighter plane that works better conceptually than in reality, as the Project on Government Oversight found that the 235 planes now in service are only fully mission capable 26% of the time. To put this waste in perspective, the Urban Institute found that a paid leave program would distribute benefits worth nearly $5 billion in 2019. Anyone who says that there is no money in the budget for a program that the rest of civilization has deemed vital to their populace is either a liar or a fool.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.