congressional gridlock

Two Under-the-Radar Issues Attract Solutions, Not Slogans

As Congress bogs down on how to resolve immigration and gun violence challenges, no less serious problems of sex trafficking and paid family leave have attracted solution-searching instead of sloganeering and raise hopes for bipartisan compromises that could pass into law before the end of this year.

As Congress bogs down on how to resolve immigration and gun violence challenges, no less serious problems of sex trafficking and paid family leave have attracted solution-searching instead of sloganeering and raise hopes for bipartisan compromises that could pass into law before the end of this year.

As appropriations, immigration and guns dominate congressional headlines, two issues seem to be picking up bipartisan traction on Capitol Hill – paid family leave and sex trafficking.

President Trump has opened the door to paid family leave legislation. First daughter Ivanka Trump and GOP Senator Marco Rubio are teaming up on a proposal that would allow people to tap into their future Social Security benefits to pay for family leave. Congressional Democrats are pushing a more aggressive plan that would increase employee and employer payroll taxes to cover the cost of paid family leave.

Five states, including Washington, already require paid family leave. Eight states, including Oregon, have expanded the length of unpaid family leave. Most US workers are covered by the Family Medical Leave Act, which allows up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off for a newborn child or care for an aging parent. The City of New York expanded its family leave policy to include recuperation from domestic abuse.

Paid family leave is an issue that has attracted bipartisan interest because it impacts business productivity, employee satisfaction and family structure. The conservative American Enterprise Institute and the liberal Brookings Institution undertook a joint look at the issue of paid family leave and have been  blogging  about what they jointly concluded for the past year.

Paid family leave is an issue that has attracted bipartisan interest because it impacts business productivity, employee satisfaction and family structure. The conservative American Enterprise Institute and the liberal Brookings Institution undertook a joint look at the issue of paid family leave and have been blogging about what they jointly concluded for the past year.

Supporters of paid family leave point to data showing only 14 percent of US workers have access to paid family leave through their employers. Most employees, they suggest, cannot afford to take off long amounts of unpaid leave. 

Opponents say mandating paid family leave will make it more expensive to hire employees and lead to fewer jobs. Businesses are caught in the middle and disapprove of what has become a patchwork of family leave policies state to state and, in some cases, community to community.

NPR ran a story that included a vignette about Joe Fain, a Washington state senator, who took an unpaid leave when his son was born and became an advocate for the benefit. At the time, the City of Seattle had adopted expanded leave policies, which led businesses to push the state legislature to act. Fain says, in the same way, states are now pushing for federal action.

While the various sides of this issue aren’t close to a compromise, there is broad agreement that paid family leave is important to getting newborns off to a good start and to helping families cope with illnesses by aging parents.

Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, is pushing hard for legislation to protect potential sex trafficking victims and make online websites liable if they enable sex trafficking. His bill, called Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, has attracted 60 congressional cosponsors and is supported by law enforcement, civil rights and faith-based groups.

Portman says he became interested in the subject after meeting with Ohio constituents who described incidents of sex trafficking in their communities, in many cases associated with opioid abuse. Portman says sex trafficking is big business that has increased, despite tougher penalties, because of what he called the “ruthless efficiency” of the “dark side of the internet.” He blames an 850 percent increase in sex trafficking since 2015 on the “emergence of companies like Backpage.com, which probably has about 75 percent of the commercial sex traffic on one site.”

Some technology companies have pushed back on Portman’s cure of removing legal immunity for online platforms, claiming it would expose the companies behind those platforms to lawsuits for content their users post. Loss of legal immunity, they say, could chill continuing development and expansion of online platforms.

While paid family leave and sex trafficking solutions will require answering significant policy questions, they may provide Congress with an easier avenue to address serious social problems plaguing America than trying to reform immigration policy or agree on ways to stem gun violence. If nothing else, these complex issues have not been reduced to polarizing slogans, which is allowing for collaborative conversations and potential bipartisan compromises.

New Leak Confirms Infrastructure Package Outline

The long-promised Trump infrastructure package may be unveiled later this month when the President delivers his State of the Union Address. A new leak confirms what we reported several weeks ago, including money that could be used to expand broadband access in rural areas.

The long-promised Trump infrastructure package may be unveiled later this month when the President delivers his State of the Union Address. A new leak confirms what we reported several weeks ago, including money that could be used to expand broadband access in rural areas.

Expectations are building that President Trump will unveil his long-promised infrastructure package during his State of the Union Address January 30.

A well-publicized leak of his proposal emerged this week, which conforms closely with what we reported – also based on leaked material – last month in this blog.

There will be four pots of money. The largest, totaling $100 billion, is intended to provide a federal incentive for transportation, water, hydroelectricity and brownfield reclamation projects. Money from this pot would cover 20 percent of project costs and non-federal funding would make up the rest.

A second pot sets aside $50 billion for rural projects, which also can include broadband investments. The last leak indicates $40 billion from this pot would be allocated to states after they produce a comprehensive rural investment plan.

A third pot would give the Department of Commerce the discretion to spend $20 billion on what are called transformative projects, including higher-risk and higher-reward projects.

Around $30 billion would be dedicated to federal capital financing and credit programs including TIFIA and WIFIA that are intended to spur public-private partnerships such as toll roads.

There are congressional proposals on infrastructure, so the final shape of a package that can pass remains to be seen. But it is encouraging to see the debate over an actual package may begin soon in Congress.

Congressional attention has been focused – and will continue to focus – on reaching an agreement on spending. The nation is operating under its fourth continuing resolution, with a February 8 deadline to negotiate a longer-term agreement under the shadow of other issues that range from increased military spending and immigration.

The three-day partial federal government shutdown that ended Monday may be a precursor of what’s to come. Senate Democrats want to use their limited leverage to filibuster to secure the future of 800,000 “Dreamers.” Trump and conservative Republicans in the House want to use the Dreamers as a bargaining chip to get up to $18 billion for a border wall and other changes in immigration policy.

The consensus view of political observers is that Senate Democrats folded fairly quickly because they weren’t geared up for a war of words in print and on social media. Republicans pounded them, saying they shut down the government to protect illegal immigrants.

Government shutdowns probably don’t shower any political party with praise, but Democrats may be better armed to defend their position if February 8 rolls around and there is no deal on immigration, border security or military spending.