U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is prepared to run for speaker of the House, but, like any good negotiator, he has a list of demands. One is that he not sacrifice any of his cherished time off the job.
“I cannot and will not give up my family time,” Ryan, who is known for spending weekends in Janesville, Wisconsin, with his wife and three children, told reporters this week.
It remains unclear what sort of arrangement Ryan’s bargaining will produce. But as critics have noted, millions of other working Americans do not have the luxury of paid time off, and the former vice presidential candidate has blocked efforts to change this fact.
The United States remains the only industrialized country without any form of guaranteed paid family leave. (Papua New Guinea and Suriname are the only other countries without such a statutory requirement.) Under the current system, some American workers can take a limited amount of unpaid time off, but the law is riddled with exemptions: It does not apply to small businesses, and employees have to spend at least a year on their jobs and rack up enough hours to qualify.
Advocacy groups have repeatedly called on Congress to bring U.S. policy in line with the rest of the developed world, and President Barack Obama said as much in his most recent State of the Union address. Ryan has rejected these demands.
In fact, as Politico’s Marianne LeVine notes, “when it comes to federal policies on family leave, Ryan has opposed virtually every measure proposed over the past several years.”
Along with his fellow Republicans, Ryan has not signed on to a bill that would guarantee up to seven days of paid sick leave for workers at businesses with 15 or more employees. Likewise, he has not lent his support to legislation that would create a federally operated paid family and medical leave insurance program. The latter was referred to the powerful House and Ways Committee, which is chaired by Ryan, but legislators have not taken up the bill.
The apparent double standard has triggered the scorn of paid leave advocates.
“Very few Americans have the resources Ryan does to demand that their jobs allow for family time,” Ellen Bravo, executive director of the pro-paid leave group Family Values @ Work, said in a statement. “Instead of taking steps to ensure that every person can manage the demands of work and family, Rep. Ryan has repeatedly opposed progress on that front.”
When asked about the charges of hypocrisy, a Ryan spokesman pointed to the congressman’s support for the Working Families Flexibility Act. Opposed by paid leave advocates, the bill would give employers the ability to swap paid time off with overtime pay obligations.
As the liberal site ThinkProgress notes, Ryan has maintained a similarly tough stance toward child care subsidies. His famously hawkish budget proposals have proposed cuts to a major source of federal funding to these programs. Worker advocates consider these subsidies to be a critically important boost to the working poor.