Murch & Pinkerton: Make American Families Great Again with Paid Family Leave

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The Republican Party, the party of family values, should show voters how much it values families—especially families with children.  That would be good for the party, but far more importantly it would be good for America.

The 2016 Republican Platform makes 26 references to “family,” describing it as “foremost” among our social institutions. Indeed, the GOP platform describes the traditional family as “the foundation for a free society,” which “has for millennia been entrusted with rearing children and instilling cultural values.”  Such families, the platform continues, are also “the basis of a stable and prosperous society.”

President Trump agrees. Speaking to the Faith and Freedom Coalition on June 26, 2019, the president declared, “We’re fighting for the American worker, we’re fighting for the American family, and we’re fighting for the American Dream.”

And yet here is the blunt reality: There will not be an American Dream to achieve if our nation as a whole doesn’t increase its birth rate.  The American Dream requires, well, Americans—and families, too, are required.  Yet sadly, according to a recent report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. birth rate has fallen to 1.72 children per woman, which is substantially below the replacement rate of 2.1 children. We are not blind: To keep America strong we need to keep American families strong and plentiful. 

There are many reasons why the birth rate is falling. One factor is the increasing number of women joining the paid workforce, and the stagnation of wages for many over the last few decades has made working women a necessity for many families.  Yet if women are working outside of the home, they must sometimes make a cruel tradeoff: their job versus their children. That is a hard dilemma, indeed.

Interestingly, forward-looking nationalist countries have taken steps to ease that tradeoff, helping women both keep their jobs and build a family. One such nation is Israel; the Jewish state has adopted policy measures that have dramatically increased the number of Jewish births. One of Israel’s key pro-family policies is paid family leave; that is, the mandate that parents receive time off, with pay, to welcome a newborn into their family.

This is a kind and humane policy, of course, and yet it’s also a smart policy—because Israel, like any nation, needs new citizens to enrich it, to defend it, and otherwise contribute to it. Indeed, other countries trying hard to strengthen themselves, such as Hungary and Poland, have used policy tools to increase their domestic birth rates.

The United States needs a robust pro-family policy. And we can add, the Republican Party needs it, too. If the Republican Party wants to be persuasive in its argument that it stands for family values, then it must value families—and prove it.

President Trump and his daughter Ivanka have been pointing the way. They have endorsed paid family leave.  

However, they do not have the power to enact such a pro-family policy by themselves. Congress must act, too.

Fortunately, in the United States Senate, conservatives such as Marco Rubio, Joni Ernst, Mike Lee, Deb Fischer, and Bill Cassidy support paid family leave. They have developed policies for new moms and dads that to varying degrees provide flexibility for workers and employers alike to contribute, define family generously but not indefinitely, and focus the utmost concern on affordability. They should be commended for their efforts, which are pro-family, and pro-American. 

Still, Republicans and conservatives need to re-think the definition of “investment.” Done well, paid family leave is overwhelmingly pro-taxpayer. Strong families make for a strong economy and a strong nation.

While the details of legislation are being debated in a healthy way that lives up to great American ideals, we should see paid family leave as not only a good idea in and of itself, but also a political imperative we must all arrive at agreement upon.

Why? Because family leave is overwhelmingly popular, and Democrats are seizing on their understanding that American voters are rightly demanding it. It’s possible that the two parties will find common ground on family leave, and yet at the same time, it’s necessary that Republicans realize that pro-family policies are the key to further strengthening the GOP grip on the working- and middle class. To put that another way, if the Democrats have the rich and the poor, then the Republicans need the middle all the more.

And as Republicans, we can also add: Family leave is conservative. As the French conservative Alexis de Tocqueville wrote admiringly of America after he visited here in the early 19th century, “While the European endeavors to forget his domestic troubles by agitating society, he American derives from his own home that love of order which he afterwards carries with him into public affairs.”  Yes, it’s essentially American to focus on hearth and home, on kith and kin.  And U.S. history shows that contented families are the best bulwark against the sort of radicalism we’ve seen, and continue to see, from the left.

To be sure, there’s opposition to paid family leave, mostly from utopian libertarians who don’t think government should be involved in anything.  If that’s a principled position, we can respect that.  However, we would point out that back in 1776, the greatest free-market economist of all time, Adam Smith, emphasized the importance of big families:

The most decisive mark of the prosperity of any country is the increase of the number of its inhabitants. … A numerous family of children, instead of being a burden, is a source of opulence and prosperity.

Smith’s mind was focused on whether a nation is progressing, stagnating, or declining. It is imperative we have that focus today.  Obviously, we must aim for progress. 

Still, putting theory aside and being real, neither a laissez-faire free market nor Wall Street can save our families to save America. Our faith must be put in our people, and our people want pro-family policy. Through our constitutional process, our people can make our leaders make American Families Great Again. 

Our families are worth fighting for. 

Garrett Murch has served as a legislative aide to former Maine Senator Olympia J. Snowe, worked at the Heritage Foundation, for Laura Ingraham, Jeff Sessions, and as Communications Director for the Maine Republican Party.

James P. Pinkerton served as a domestic policy aide in the White Houses of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. He also worked in the 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, and 2008 presidential campaigns. From 1996 to 2016, he was a contributor to the Fox News Channel.


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