Hillary Clinton’s paid family and medical leave “plan” isn’t actually a plan

Hillary Clinton took a shot at Bernie Sanders today when she released a proposal to provide 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave without raising taxes on households earning less than $250,000 per year.

Sanders is a co-sponsor of the FAMILY Act, which would provide for a similar amount of family and medical leave via a 0.4% payroll tax — $1.38 per week for a worker making median wages. Sanders’s campaign says that his own plan for paid family and medical leave would cost a similar $1.61 per week for the average worker.

Hillary Clinton, via Wikimedia Commons

Hillary Clinton, via Wikimedia Commons

Clinton’s proposal goes out of its way to argue that this is the wrong approach, since “middle class families deserve a raise, not a tax increase.” However, her proposal doesn’t specify how, exactly, the wealthiest two-ish percent of American households would pay for a benefit that is received on a worker-by-worker basis. The white paper declares that the policy will be paid for by “a combination of tax reforms impacting the most fortunate,” but there is no discussion of which taxes will be raised (or which tax expenditures will be eliminated) in order to match the benefits provided by the FAMILY Act.

That could have something to do with the fact that, as has been pointed out before, Clinton’s previous pledge to not raise taxes on the lower 98 percent of earners severely limits her ability to make the math work on a wide array of progressive economic policies. However, paid family and medical leave is a cheap enough program — again, it can be paid for by a 0.4% payroll tax — that it shouldn’t be all that hard to come up with equivalent savings in the tax code that would only affect families with household incomes over $250,000 per year.

This being the case, it’s hard to call Clinton’s proposal for paid family leave a “plan,” since there’s no roadmap as to how she gets from Point A (no family leave) to her stated goal of Point B (revenue-neutral family leave). Nor is there any present legislation on which she’s modeled her proposal — instead, she’s gone out of her way to repudiate legislation that a sizable subset of Democrats in Congress support.

All she’s done is say that paid family and medical leave are good, but that minuscule payroll tax increases are bad.

Sanders, for his part, is not amused:

After all, this is exactly the kind of debate that Sanders was hoping to have when he jumped in the race. Paid family leave has now been added to the list of issues on which Clinton has attacked Sanders from the right — a list that already included debt-free college and universal health care. However, each issue on that list brings to mind the more fundamental question of whether taxes are good if they pay for good things, or if they are only good if someone else is paying them.

That’s a question Sanders is fairly confident he has the better answer to:


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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  • Another great idea by Bernie that Clinton is trying to steal, but once again after attacking Bernie for paid maternal leave for months. These flip flops make my head spin!

  • Larrykmorgan4


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  • hidflect

    I hope Madame Hillary hasn’t been presumptuous enough to go ahead and pre-order her custom-made tiara. There’s still the little matter of getting anyone to vote for her.

  • Gennybrelyea4


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  • UncleBucky

    I understand and like #5, since it’s very true that there are regional differences in the costs of living. But what is the baseline? Cable, Electric, Phone, and costs of many things are nationally even, and themselves not likely to change regionally. The only thing that I can see is regionally variable are property values and rents. In more rural areas, the costs of transport can balance those out, like a person in a city travelling 40km. Insurance might vary, but I would like to see the actuals.

    I would agree with an exploration of regional differences, but not to see rural areas depressed in wages, just because, rather seeing a baseline and then increases based on increased costs of living in certain areas.

    What about a regional difference on costs of living? :P Yah right! :)

  • Mistywmiller1


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  • Quilla

    BeccaM’s got my vote!

  • Tarapcarter4


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  • Zorba

    Those all sound good to me. Becca for President!

  • My version of a plan is very simple:
    (1) Restore the progressive tax brackets to what they were before Reagan and the Republicans (and Dem quislings) exploded the deficit in the early 1980s. (Indexed for inflation, of course.)
    (2) Restore and strengthen Glass-Steagall. And any bank or financial institution ‘too big to fail’ is too big to be allowed to exist.
    (3) Remove the FICA tax cap entirely, making Social Security and Medicare solvent in perpetuity. With this enhanced funding, we could even consider expansion of these programs.
    (4) Impose a financial transactions tax of about 0.25% on all stock, bond, and derivatives sales.
    (5) Raise the minimum wage, nation-wide, although it would probably be a good idea to consider regional adjustments; minimum wage in New Mexico goes a whole lot further than it does in NYC, DC, or Miami, for example.
    (6) Medicare-for-All as a baseline single-payer health insurance system for all Americans. And strictly regulate the delivery and financial systems behind medical care, as it is very clear now that BigMed has been gouging Americans for decades and delivering substandard results.

  • nicho

    I believe the term you’re looking for is “voodoo economics/”

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