This was a vote on passing H.R. 626, the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act of 2009. The Act, among other things, provided for 4 paid weeks of parental leave for federal employees. Federal employees were permitted under existing law to take up to 12 weeks of parental leave. However, existing law did not provide that any portion of those 12 weeks would be paid.
Supporters of the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act claimed it would improve the ability of the federal government to recruit and retain workers by providing a benefit many workers in the private sector receive. Opponents claimed that it would cost additional billions of dollars that the government could not afford at a time it was running large deficits.
Rep. Lynch (D-MA), a major supporter of the Act, first noted that current law already provided federal workers with up to 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave. He then said H.R. 626 “does nothing more than permit those Federal employees . . . to receive paid leave for 4 weeks out of the 12 weeks to which they already have access and . . . provides employees the option to use accrued sick or annual leave, if available, for the remaining 8 weeks. . . .”
He then noted that “America is lagging behind in offering paid leave for parents. Currently, the Federal Government, as an employer, guarantees zero paid leave for parents in any segment of the workforce. However, H.R. 626, once enacted, will, in fact, change that . . . most Federal employees cannot afford to take unpaid leave. This often forces these employees to choose between spending more time with their newborn child or maintaining an income to support their families . . . .” Lynch added that, since the federal government is the largest employer in the country, “its policies in this area do set a tone for the country.”
Rep. Issa (R-CA), who was leading the opposition to the bill, claimed it “sends the wrong message at the wrong time to working American taxpayers and families that are struggling in difficult times.” He argued that millions of Americans have lost their jobs: “(B)ut in fact, there's no suffering (among federal employees) in Washington.” He also claimed that the bill has “no protections against . . . those who do not need this special benefit getting it . . . “ Issa added that “in a bad time, when tens of thousands of auto workers are being laid off . . . we're looking at a new benefit that could easily cost $4 billion over the next 10 years.”
Referring to the fact that the bill will enable more federal workers to be away from their jobs, Issa claimed: “(I)f you create additional days the Federal workforce will be off, you can only have one of two choices. Either their labor wasn't needed and, as a result, doesn't need to be replaced, or their labor was needed and will be replaced. Replacement costs money. That ultimately will lead to a higher cost.”
Lynch responded by suggesting that the Republicans were just using the poor current economic conditions as an excuse to oppose a bill they never supported.
The legislation passed on a vote of 258-154. Two hundred and thirty-four Democrats and twenty-four Republicans voted “aye”. One hundred and forty-nine Republicans and five Democrats voted “nay”. As a result, the House passed and sent on to the Senate the bill providing federal employees with 4 weeks of paid parental leave.