A package of family bills offering child care assistance and parental job leaves died today in the Senate, a casualty of Republican political pressure and the ticking clock of the 100th Congress.
With adjournment expected next week and at least two major bills still pending, sponsors of the legislation failed to get the 60 votes they needed to limit debate and get on with their bill. The vote was 50 to 46.
Five Republicans joined 45 Democrats in trying to keep the measure alive. Voting against cutting off debate were 38 Republicans and 8 Democrats.
The triple-pronged package--which also included a crackdown on child pornographers--was on the Senate floor for the better part of two weeks amid intense political and parliamentary maneuvering.
Democrats repeatedly termed the package an opportunity to back up election campaign rhetoric with a solid commitment. Republicans said there were more pressing matters to deal with, such as drug and tax bills and they refused to offer amendments or strike a compromise on the family measures.
“Their filibuster was successful. They have won today and America’s families have lost,” Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) said after the vote.
Republican leader Bob Dole of Kansas said the Senate had acted prudently. “What we’ve done in effect is say slow down,” he said.
Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), who led the drive for the package, accused Republicans of waging “a filibuster by silence; nine days of stalling; nine days of total inertia.
“Never in the history of American politics has there been a constituency so popular but with so little political clout as the American family,” said Dodd, chairman of the Senate subcommittee on children, family, drugs and alcoholism. He said he will reintroduce the parental leave and child care bills on the first day of the 101st Congress in January.
3 Parts of Package
The three elements of the family package included:
--Dodd’s original bill requiring employers of more than 50 people to offer workers at least 10 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave when they have newborn, newly adopted or sick children, or have serious medical problems themselves.
--An anti-pornography measure sponsored by Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), making it a federal crime to possess, sell or distribute child pornography or obscene materials. It was added to the parental leave bill on a unanimous vote.
--The $2.5-billion Act for Better Child Care Services, also sponsored by Dodd, aimed at helping low-income parents pay for child care at centers or homes. It was presented as a compromise between Dodd and Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and was to have included a tax credit for poor families in its final form.
The parental-leave section was fought vigorously by business and conservative groups.
“The (Senate) debate focused on whether the private sector rather than Congress is best equipped to decide and manage benefit policy. It wasn’t a debate on whether or not parental or medical leave is a good benefit,” said Mary Tavenner, founder of a group called the Concerned Alliance of Responsible Employers.
Groups that back the Dodd bills, representing unions, churches, women, children and medical personnel, vowed to press ahead next year.
“We’re going to be back early so we’re first on the agenda instead of last in the next Congress,” said Judith Lichtman, executive director of the Women’s Legal Defense Fund.
“People are going to be angry that there’s been such a high level of rhetoric and so little produced,” said Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), sponsor of the parental leave bill in the House.