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Trump’s new, potentially inclusive family leave policy faces big hurdles in Congress

Key phrase: “new parents.”

Ivanka Trump looks on as her father, President Trump, addresses a joint session of Congress Tuesday.
Ivanka Trump looks on as her father, President Trump, addresses a joint session of Congress Tuesday.
Alex Wong / Getty Images

President Donald Trump used a new word in his first major address to Congress: parents.

Trump called for bipartisan support of two of the big campaign promises he pitched to appeal to women and middle-class families — a national child care plan and paid family leave.

“My administration wants to work with members of both parties to make child care accessible and affordable,” he said, “to help ensure new parents that they have paid family leave.”

The key phrase is “new parents.” It reflects a rumored tweak to his campaign promise, which pledged to provide six weeks of maternity leave to birth mothers only, excluding birth fathers, adoptive parents, and LGBTQ parents who didn’t give birth. “New parents” is arguably more inclusive.

The political reality to any proposal on paid family leave (mom, dad, or otherwise) faces huge obstacles in the Republican-controlled Congress, though the Atlantic reports that there’s at least some interest on both sides of the aisle.

Still, Trump’s calls of support were essentially a blip in an hour-long speech aimed at laying out a number of his legislative priorities on health care, immigration, border security, and infrastructure.

Any advancement of these policy issues has generally been credited to first daughter Ivanka Trump, who, despite having no official White House role, has made “women who work” her central policy issue in her father’s administration (as well as her professional marketing strategy). During a pre-election interview with Cosmopolitan and the ensuing fallout, she faced tough criticism over gender exclusions and the possibility of her plan being unconstitutional.

Trump’s child care and elder care plan — released September 2016 on his campaign website — involves tax deductions for a maximum of four dependents, the creation of dependent care savings accounts, and a larger earned income tax credit for lower-income families. Companies would also be required to give six weeks of paid maternity leave for birth mothers, paid for through existing unemployment insurance programs.

According to the Tax Foundation, a conservative think tank on tax policies, the child care deductions in Trump’s plan alone would cost an estimated $500 billion over 10 years, a cost likely to deter Republican legislators. Democrats wouldn’t find too much to like about the plan, either. The child care deductions won’t help families who earn too little income to pay taxes, and the proposed credit rebates are too low to adequately cover child care.

To offset his plan’s high costs, Trump has proposed altering the cutoff for the lowest income tax rate, cutting deductions for married couples, and eliminating personal exemptions and head-of-household filing status. An analysis by NYU Law’s Lily Batchelder shows that such plans would actually end up raising taxes for about 20 percent of households with minor children, including more than half of all single-parent households.

Before his inauguration, Trump had directed House members to include child care tax write-offs in forthcoming tax legislation, with paid maternity leave “likely .... pursued separately,” according to Politico. More recently, Ivanka Trump and Dina Powell, Trump’s senior counselor on economic issues, met with lawmakers to push proposals for both the child care plan and paid maternity leave.

Kevin Brady, the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee and the architect of the House GOP’s tax reform efforts, told Vox’s Jim Tankersley in an interview this week that his staff has talked about child care issues with Ivanka Trump’s staff.

While Trump indicated in his address on Tuesday that child care affordability and paid parental leave continue to be priorities for his administration, he’ll face a difficult path persuading a Republican-led Congress to pass tax code rewrites to support family-friendly policies, especially with Obamacare repeal and replace still on the table.

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