Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) announced this week he is working with Ivanka Trump to craft a paid leave plan intended to appeal to both Republicans and Democrats.
The plan wouldn’t be funded by the federal government, raise taxes, or impose a mandate on employers — but would require individuals to withdraw from their Social Security benefits whenever they need to take time off to care for a new baby or other family related-matters, which could delay some Americans’ ability to retire.
Rubio adopted this “budget-neutral” approach to Social Security based on ideas from the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), a right-wing nonprofit organization purportedly focused on the economic policy concerns of women. The group published a report in early January entitled “Policy Focus: A Budget-Neutral Approach to Parental Leave.”
While the details on Rubio’s actual legislation remain scarce, Social Security experts have already voiced their concerns over this approach, as any delay in benefits is seen as a cut to the program. What will happen to the roughly 80 percent of Americans who do not have access to paid leave, but who also want to keep their Social Security as is so they can retire on time?
The National Partnership for Women and Families released a statement Wednesday calling the proposal harmful for women.
“Such a plan would harm women in particular because they are still primary caregivers for their families and the wages they receive over their lifetimes trail men’s, leading to monthly Social Security benefits that are an average of 20 percent lower for women than men,” NPWF President Debra Ness said. “But no one should have to borrow against already low Social Security benefits in order to access the paid family and medical leave they need. Our country deserves to have the promise of Social Security protected.”
The plan also fails to address whether Social Security recipients like non-retired disabled workers and their families, or the surviving family of a deceased worker, would be required to dip into their Social Security to cover their paid leave.
In a call with reporters on Wednesday morning, IWF president Carrie Lukas defended the plan, calling it “entirely voluntary.”
“Anyone who thinks this is a bad trade-off doesn’t have to make this trade,” Lukas said.
It is true that any advance towards paid family leave is better than none. But paid leave, as it has been interpreted and legislated for years, refers to someone else paying you to take some needed time off. Paid leave does not mean leveraging your own retirement to borrow time from yourself.
In spite of this, the IWF has convinced Rubio, along with Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Joni Ernst (R-IA), that this is the right path forward for the only First World nation that still doesn’t require new mothers to receive paid leave.
The IWF’s anti-women beginnings
The IWF grew out of “Women For Judge Thomas,” a group a formed in 1992 during Anita Hill’s testimony against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, who faced allegations of sexual harassment.
Even after Thomas was confirmed to the Supreme Court, the IWF continued to fight Hill. While Hill recounted her experience with Thomas at a conference, the group’s co-founder Ricky Silberman held a counter protest at the Federalist Society, where she said Hill’s “unsubstantiated charge of sexual harassment launched the mother of all gender wars.”
The pseudofeminist conservative darling lobbied against then-Sen. Joe Biden’s “Violence Against Women Act,” saying “wives instigate violence, including severe violence, against husbands more often than husbands do against wives.” The IWF also criticized Equal Pay Day as a “fictitious ‘holiday’ liberal women’s groups have manufactured to try to expose the so-called ‘wage gap,’” and opposes any legislation that will “convince women that society, and especially the workplace, is unfair to women.” And the IWF asserted that sexual assault on campus is an overblown issue, given that it is “inherently incredible” that female college students “are unable to report assaults to authorities.”
The IWF has defended Rush Limbaugh
While the group bills itself as “independent” and “non-partisan,” the IWF has been an aggressive political player.
The IWF has repeatedly defended right-wing talk radio show host Rush Limbaugh for his misogynistic comments. In 2012, after Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke — a Georgetown Law School student who testified in favor of a contraception mandate before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — a “slut” and prostitute, the IWF responded by accusing anti-Limbaugh feminists like Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda of wanting to silence and censor him.
In 2007, Limbaugh donated $237,000 to IWF, making him the group’s biggest donor that year, according to a report by The Nation and the American Independent Institute. The report noted that in later years, “donors to the IWF began cloaking its contributions by running them through the right-wing’s biggest donor-advised fund, DonorsTrust,” making it difficult to know how much Limbaugh and other donors may have contributed since then.
The IWF opposes the teaching of global warming
IWF has also opposed the teaching of global warming in schools, forming a short-lived group called Balanced Education for Everyone. The group labeled global warming as “junk science” and promoted a documentary called Not Evil Just Wrong, an anti-global warming film created to counter Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.
The IWF believes assault weapons help mothers
In 2013, an IWF fellow testified before a Senate Judiciary hearing on a proposed assault rifle ban. She told the committee that a ban on assault rifles would harm women because an assault weapon “in the hands of a young woman defending her babies in her home becomes a defense weapon.”
The IWF has an extensive history with the Koch brothers
A report on IWF by the Center for Media and Democracy reveals the group’s close links to the Koch Brothers. While the relationship between the IWF and the Kochs is tenuous now, in the group’s early stages it shared space and leadership with David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity.
The organization received $16,234,294 in foundation grants between 1994 and 2013, according to data complied by the American Bridge 21st Century Foundation’s Conservative Transparency database — with a lot of that money coming through pass-through “banks” utilized by the Koch family, like the Donoros Capital Fund and Donors Trust, which gave $1,640,000 in 2012.
One of the newest supporters of the IWF paid leave plan is Sen. Ernst, whose candidacy for Senate in 2013 was almost entirely Koch-backed.