Today, Senators Mike Lee and Joni Ernst are introducing the Child Rearing and Development Leave Empowerment (CRADLE) Act, which will enable new parents to access their Social Security benefits to help them take time off from work following the birth or adoption of a child (this “Social Security Earned Leave” concept was first introduced in this IWF paper, written by Kristin Shapiro, and similar to legislation proposed by Senator Marco Rubio last year)

Conservatives have long opposed the idea of government involvement in the provision of paid-leave benefits, recognizing its tremendous downsides, but the approach taken by Lee and Ernst avoids those downsides: It simply reforms an existing entitlement program so that people have greater flexibility and control over when they can access benefits. It does not require new tax revenue. It does not affect the benefits or obligations of anyone other than those who opt to take parental leave benefits — so it’s fair to everyone who doesn’t have children and doesn’t need or want this kind of leave. It will not meaningfully discourage employers from offering paid-leave benefits on their own. It does not increase government’s overall obligations.

And it has tremendous upsides: It would help new parents who face financial pressure when having a baby, giving them more time to recover and bond, which is associated with better health for baby, mom, and the family. It will make it less likely that people turn to government assistance, thereby decreasing pressure on other safety net programs and saving taxpayers money. Women are more likely to stay in the labor force, increasing their earnings and family incomes.

This is good politics, in addition to good policy. Americans overwhelmingly want workers to have access to paid time off following the adoption or birth of a baby. As IWF’s Hadley Manning wrote last week on NRO’s homepage, more states (such as Colorado) are working to pass paid-leave entitlement plans — which impose new taxes on all workers, will make workplaces drop their current paid-leave packages in favor of government plans, and discourage true flexibility. As more states go in this direction, it becomes more likely than businesses will support a federal solution to relieve them of a patchwork of state and local programs. Democrats, including the presidential candidates, will push for a sweeping and costly new paid-leave entitlement programs, and work with the complicit media to paint those who oppose paid leave as heartless and indifferent to the challenges of working families, particularly women.

The Lee-Ernst proposal shows that conservatives do care about struggling working moms and dads, and want to modernize the safety net. This isn’t a step away from the conservative principles of limited government and economic liberty, but a way to make good on those ideals by making government better, rather than bigger.