Joe Manchin single-handedly denied US families paid leave. That’s just cruel | Jill Filipovic

Americans will remain some of the last people on the planet to have no right to paid leave when they have children, and for that, you can thank Joe Manchin.

Manchin, the Democratic senator from West Virginia, tanked the paid leave portion of an increasingly narrow domestic policy package. Manchin had already gotten Democrats to make what was once a sweeping and ambitious bill smaller and less effectual. Even though the Democrats control the House, the Senate and the White House, and are not expected to maintain control of Congress after this year’s midterm elections, they still can’t get it together to deliver what the American people put them in office to do. And that’s because of Manchin, as well as his fellow centrist holdout, Kyrsten Sinema.

To be fair, 50 Republicans are to blame for this as well. All 50 of them oppose Biden’s paid family leave plan, and none were expected to vote for this bill. If even a few of them had been willing to cross the aisle to support parents and new babies – to be, one might say, “pro-life” and “pro-family” – then Manchin would not have the power he does to deny paid family leave to millions of American parents. So let’s not forget this reality, too: most Democrats want to create a paid family leave program. Republicans do not.

But Manchin’s actions are particularly insulting and egregious because he is a Democrat. He enjoys party support and funding. He benefits when Democrats do popular things. And now, he’s standing in the way of a policy that the overwhelming majority of Democrats want, and that is resoundingly popular with the American public, including conservatives and Republicans.

Paid family leave brings a long list of benefits to families, from healthier children to stronger marriages. And it benefits the country by keeping more working-age people in the workforce – when families don’t have paid leave, mothers drop out, a dynamic we’ve seen exacerbated by the pandemic. By some estimates, paid family leave could increase US GDP by billions of dollars.

This is good policy. But it’s also a policy that is, in large part, about gender equality. While paid leave is (or would have been) available to any new parent, the reality is that it’s overwhelmingly women who are the primary caregivers for children, it’s overwhelmingly women who birth children, and it’s overwhelmingly women who are pushed out of the paid workforce when they have kids.

As it stands, many well-paid white-collar employees do get some paid leave. It’s working-class parents who often don’t – and who can’t afford to take several weeks off of an hourly-wage job, even to recover from childbirth or to care for a brand-new infant who needs 24/7 attention. These workers, and particularly the women among them, are put in an impossible bind: money but no ability to care for a child, or caring for a child and no money. A paid family leave program would put an end to that particularly American cruelty.

We are one of the most prosperous societies in the history of the world, and yet our lack of paid leave policies means that new mothers are back working at fast-food restaurants days after having major abdominal surgery, leaving their infants home with whoever is free to watch them. Or, our lack of paid leave policies mean that new mothers simply quit their jobs, pitching themselves into financial precarity at the exact moment they need greater stability, more money and less stress.

It’s astoundingly cruel. And it’s entirely unnecessary – all of America’s economic peers have a paid family leave policy, and most of them have policies that are far more generous and far more sensible than even the plan Democrats were debating. This is not a mysterious or unsolved problem; every other wealthy and developed country on Earth has largely solved it. We are an outlier because we are simply choosing to make life unnecessarily brutal for families, and for women in particular.

And this week, it’s Joe Manchin in particular who is choosing, single-handedly, to continue making life unnecessarily brutal for families, and for women in particular. He’s not the only bad actor, but right now, he’s the most powerful one.

And he’s using his political power not to advocate for what his constituents want and need, but simply to demonstrate that he has it – to show that he is more influential than the American president, that American social and economic policy lies in his hands.

It’s a pathetic, petty little narcissistic display. And it’s American families, and particularly American mothers, who suffer so that Joe Manchin can feel like a big man.