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Federal Diary: Despite YouTube Tactic, House Passes Parental Leave Bill

Clockwise, from top left, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, North Korea's Kim Jong Il, Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and Cuba's Fidel Castro -- symbols used by Rep. Darrell Issa to fan opposition to a federal parental leave measure.
Clockwise, from top left, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, North Korea's Kim Jong Il, Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and Cuba's Fidel Castro -- symbols used by Rep. Darrell Issa to fan opposition to a federal parental leave measure. (Cristobal Herrera - AP)
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By Joe Davidson
Friday, June 5, 2009

With all the issues that vex the relationship between Uncle Sam and North Korea, Iran, Venezuela and Cuba, leading figures in those countries might be surprised to see themselves dragged into a domestic debate over paid parental leave for federal employees.

Yet there they are -- North Korea's Kim Jong Il, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and Cuba's Fidel Castro -- pictured as symbols against legislation that would allow federal employees four weeks of paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child.

But this YouTube tactic by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) didn't work. Despite his imaginative video, the House passed the measure yesterday, 258 to 154.

Issa uses the photos of Sam's rivals to counter statements by Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chief sponsor of the bill, who is shown on the video saying that almost every country provides paid parental leave. Her bill is necessary, she argues, to move the United States from "the worst in the world up with the other progressive family-friendly-oriented countries."

Words on the screen then ask: "Could these guys be wrong on paid parental leave?" followed by photos of North Korea's "Dear Leader" and the others.

Perhaps Issa would feel more comfortable keeping the United States in the company of Lesotho, Liberia, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea, the only nations that do not guarantee some form of paid parental leave, according to a report by researchers at McGill and Harvard universities.

This isn't the first time Issa, the top Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has used rather creative arguments against giving Frankie and Flo Fed a benefit similar to those found in 168 countries and 75 percent of the Fortune 100 companies.

Last month, when the committee approved the legislation, Issa warned that Frankie and Flo could stock up on children, year after year, to get those four weeks of paid time. Workers "could have one adoption or one foster child per year, resulting in every year you get a new foster child, every year the husband and wife if they are both federal workers would take four weeks off with pay, because they have simply taken in a new foster child," he said then.

Unable to stop the legislation in committee with that argument, he unsuccessfully pushed an amendment yesterday to eviscerate the bill. Issa believes federal employees should exhaust their vacation and sick time before using paid parental leave. And if they do take that leave, Issa said, Frankie and Flo should have to pay back the time taken.

"In its current form, there is no way Congress can justify granting a costly benefit to government workers at the expense of a nation that is struggling to survive the effects of a deep recession resulting in the loss of more than 2 million new jobs since January," Issa said in a statement. "There is no way for Congress to tell nearly 14 million unemployed Americans that 2.7 million gainfully employed federal workers will receive additional benefits at a projected cost close to $1 billion."

The $1 billion figure comes from a Congressional Budget Office estimate that the new form of paid leave would cost Uncle Sam $938 million over five years. During the House debate yesterday, Maloney said the legislation would not, however, require any additional direct spending because employee salaries already are included in the budget.

But Issa and other Republicans, notably not including Virginia Rep. Frank R. Wolf, who supported the measure, focused on the cost.


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