One of Paul Ryan’s conditions for becoming speaker is that he be able to spend time with his family. But when it comes to federal policies on family leave, Ryan has opposed virtually every measure proposed over the past several years.
In 2009, for instance, Ryan voted against the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act, which would have allowed federal employees to substitute up to four weeks of available paid leave to take parental leave. The bill passed a then-Democratic House with 24 Republican votes, but the legislation never made it to the Senate floor.
In lieu of supporting paid leave, Ryan co-sponsored the Working Families Flexibility Act, which would give employers flexibility to substitute compensatory time off for time-and-a-half overtime pay. Family advocacy groups oppose the measure, which passed the House in 2013 with three Democratic votes but was not considered in the Senate.
Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work, a network of state coalitions advocating for paid leave, said the bill served only to reduce payroll costs for employers. “It gives the illusion of family time, but in fact you get to spend more time with your family only after you’re forced to spend more time away by working mandatory overtime,” she said.
On Tuesday night, Ryan told reporters, “I cannot and I will not give up my family time,” adding he “may not be on the road as often as previous speakers.”
“Paul Ryan is rightly concerned about his job’s impact on his spouse and children," said Judy Conti, federal advocacy coordinator at the National Employment Law Project. "Yet [he] isn’t willing to guarantee that all workers… have the necessary tools to balance their work and family obligations."
But Sabrina Schaeffer, executive director of the conservative Independent Women’s Forum, defended Ryan's position on paid leave. “The most important thing is to keep the workplace flexible,” she said. “We often talk about these leave policies as if there’s no cost associated with them. They cost workers in salary and wages. For women, they make employers view you as more risky and … more costly to employ at a time when the economy is sort of just chugging along."
Like every other member of the House GOP caucus, Ryan declined to sign on to a bill sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) guaranteeing up to seven days of paid sick leave for workers at businesses employing 15 or more workers. The paid sick days may go toward to taking care of a sick child.
Ryan also withheld support from another DeLauro bill, this one co-sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D.-N.Y.), that would establish a national paid family and medical leave insurance program through an independent trust fund, funded by employers and employees, within the Social Security Administration. That bill (which would appear to eliminate the disincentive mentioned by Schaeffer) was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee, which Ryan chairs. The committee has yet to take up the measure.
“Paul Ryan is talking about family time for fun, which we all want," Bravo said, "but the bare minimum is to have family time when a family member is in need."
Ryan's office declined to provide a statement explaining why Ryan opposes paid leave. But in 2000, after the Clinton administration's Labor Department issued a rule allowing states to use unemployment insurance to compensate parents who took unpaid leave to tend to a newborn or newly adopted child, Ryan called it a "shocking agency power grab." The so-called Baby UI rule was later repealed by the Bush administration.
According to the Committee on House Administration’s handbook, anyone employed by a congressional office full-time for at least one year is entitled to an annual total of 12 weeks of unpaid leave for family and medical reasons under the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act. Members of Congress have the discretion to lengthen available leave time, and to offer paid leave.
A spokesperson for Ryan did not comment on the congressman’s own leave policies for his staff, but a January Huffington Post article did not cite Ryan’s office among those that provided paid family leave.
Some family advocates found Ryan’s expressed desire to spend time with his family refreshing, quite apart from his legislative record, simply because female politicians are asked much more often than their male counterparts how they plan to balance time in office with family responsibilities.
“I think it’s very commendable that he’s talking about and recognizing that he needs to spend time with his children,” said Vicki Shabo, vice president of the National Partnership for Women and Families. “Maybe that’s a welcome step towards having a broad national conversation that we need about the policies that all working families need.”
But conservative talk radio host Laura Ingraham's Twitter feed took a less favorable view. "John Adams left his wife for years at a time to serve his country," she — or an Ingraham staffer — wrote. "George Washington left Mt Vernon for Valley Forge."