WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama said Monday that the United States should join the rest of the industrialized world and offer paid leave for mothers of newborns.
"Many women can't even get a paid day off to give birth — now that's a pretty low bar," Obama said at the White House Summit on Working Families. "That, we should be able to take care of."
The president is touting paid maternity in the midst of a midterm election campaign focused on women voters, without describing the details of how he would fund such a system. "If France can figure this out, we can figure this out," Obama said.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, responded to Obama by announcing he will would outline his vision Wednesday for "how modern conservative reforms can help bring the American Dream within reach for millions of single mothers, young Americans and working families."
"Telling federal agencies to do what they're already supposed to do and endorsing partisan legislation that will never pass is not the sort of bold, innovative leadership we need," Rubio said in a statement.
While some companies offer paid family leave to attract workers, the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act only requires that employers provide unpaid leave for medical and family reasons.
Obama praised California, Rhode Island and New Jersey for creating a state benefit. But he has not endorsed legislation that would create a similar national system funded by a payroll tax, and he pledged in his 2008 presidential campaign not to raise taxes on families making under $250,000 a year.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., has introduced legislation that would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave through a fund in the Social Security Administration, paid for by contributions from employees and employers of 0.2 percent of wages. She said she has personally encouraged the president to back it, despite his tax pledge.
"We're talking about 2 cents of every $10," she said in an interview at the summit. She said without such a fund, eight out of 10 workers can't take advantage of their right for family leave because they can't afford it.
Obama instituted six weeks of paid leave for White House staff when they have a child, get sick or injured or need to care for an ailing family member, using his authority to set his staff's compensation under the personnel code. He does not have the power to award paid leave to other federal workers without congressional action since they are covered under a different section of law. The White House has supported the goal of legislation introduced by lawmakers to change that, but it has stalled in Congress.