This was a vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Issa (R-CA) to H.R. 626, the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act of 2009. The amendment had two main purposes. It provided for 4 paid weeks of parental leave for federal employees. It also permitted federal employees to take an “advance” against future leave for the purpose of parental leave. Federal employees were permitted under existing law to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave, if they had accrued that amount. However, existing law did not provide that any portion of those 12 weeks would be paid. Existing law also did not permit employees to “borrow” against future leave time, if they had not yet accrued 12 weeks of unpaid leave.
Supporters of H.R. 626 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.
The House Republican leadership described the amendment as prohibiting any federal employee from using any parental paid leave provided in the legislation until that employee uses all of their accrued paid leave. In addition, the amendment would have required that all paid parental leave be treated as an advance and be subject to repayment in the same manner as any other paid leave.
Speaking on behalf of his amendment, Rep. Issa said it recognizes that federal workers should “be able to use accrued and earned time . . . to avail themselves of their 12 weeks of family medical leave.” He also said the amendment recognized that “not every (federal employee) . . . may have accrued leave sufficient to do 12 full weeks. Therefore, my amendment allows for that worker to take an advance against future sick leave and other leave in order to ensure that they may remain with their new child for the full 12 weeks allowed within the law.”
Rep. Chaffetz (R-UT), who supported the amendment, said: “(W)e want to be as compassionate as we can. But at a time when we have literally millions and millions of people who are out of work, when we are looking at a $1.8 trillion budget deficit just this year alone . . I think we have an obligation . . . to remember for every dollar, every benefit that we want to hand to a Federal worker, we're going to have to take that money from somewhere; and we're going to have to take it from the American people's pockets to give it to someone else. . . .”
Rep. Lynch (D-MA), one of the leading supporters of H.R. 626, opposed the amendment because, he said, “it totally goes against the bill's fundamental purpose . . . It does little more than restate the status quo with regard to the type and amount of leave that is currently available to new parents in the Federal Government . . . we should not replicate the current inadequate system that forces new moms and dads to choose between their paycheck and caring for a newborn.” He went on to argue that the amendment “would strike the bill's core requirement that Federal employees receive 4 weeks of paid parental leave. Instead, it would require new mothers and fathers to take advance leave in order to take care of their newborn or newly adopted child. In other words, new employees would be required to go into debt in their available leave as a cost of caring for their child.”
Lynch also argued that the amendment would have the “odd result” of forcing new employees “to take unpaid leave . . . and then later on after the 8 or 12 weeks had expired . . . give those employees . . . 4 weeks of paid leave . . . and I think in some cases it may turn out that this may increase the cost . . . The true effect of this amendment is to gut the primary purpose of the bill, which is to support families and child development by providing 4 weeks of unconditional paid leave to new mothers and fathers in the Federal workforce.”
The amendment failed on a vote of 157-258. One hundred and fifty-four Republicans and three Democrats voted “aye”. Two hundred and forty-one Democrats and seventeen Republicans voted “nay”. As a result, no additional language was added to the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act placing significant restrictions on the use of parental paid leave by federal employees.