Congress Fight Seen as President Vetoes Parental Leave Bill
President Bush today vetoed a bill that would guarantee workers as much as 12 weeks unpaid leave for childbirth, adoption or family illness.
“I strongly object . . . to the federal government mandating leave policies for America’s employers and work force,” Bush said, setting the stage for a major confrontation with Congress.
In a written statement before leaving for a vacation, Bush said parental leave is an important benefit for employers to offer workers. However, he said, “we must insure that federal policies do not stifle the creation of new jobs, nor result in the elimination of existing jobs.”
The issue of parental leave is a politically charged one. The Republican sponsor of the bill that Bush vetoed, Rep. Marge Roukema of New Jersey, has said it is a “bedrock family issue” that could backfire on Republicans.
In vetoing the bill, Bush said America faces its stiffest economic competition ever.
“If our nation’s employers are to succeed in an increasingly complex and competitive global marketplace, they must have the flexibility to meet both this challenge and the needs of their employees,” he said.
Judith Lichtman, president of the Women’s Legal Defense Fund and head of a coalition of groups that lobbied for the bill, said: “I’m stunned by the cynicism that this veto reveals. President Bush doesn’t care about American families. He really only cares about big business.”
It was Bush’s 13th veto. To date, Congress has not been able to muster enough votes to override him.
The bill passed comfortably in the House, although the margin fell 46 votes short of the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a veto.
Senate passage came without a recorded vote. Sponsor Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) said he was “within two or three votes” of a two-thirds majority.
The new legislation would require business and government employers to provide workers with up to 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave or with leave so they could care for a newly born or adopted child or an ill child, parent or spouse.
Employers would have to continue health coverage and then restore a returning employee to his or her previous job or an equivalent position.
Lichtman said Bush seemed to support such family leave provisions during his presidential campaign.
“I held out hope he meant what he said in the campaign and he really did want to do something,” she said.