Rubio’s ‘paid family leave’ plan is actually just cutting Social Security

A cynical move.

Credit: (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Credit: (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

When President Donald Trump addressed the country in his State of the Union address last week, it was the first time he explicitly endorsed the traditionally Democratic issue of paid family leave.

“As tax cuts create new jobs, let us invest in workforce development and job training.  Let us open great vocational schools so our future workers can learn a craft and realize their full potential,” said Trump.  “And let us support working families by supporting paid family leave.”

The line received thunderous applause from both sides of the aisle.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is working with Ivanka Trump to come up with a paid leave policy that Republicans can vote for. The conservative argument against paid family leave in the past has been Republicans vehemently oppose any mandate on employers or higher taxes.

Rubio doesn’t want the federal government to pay for paid family leave, but rather require individuals to withdraw from their Social Security benefits whenever they need to take time off for a new baby or other family related-matters. This would have the adverse effect of requiring individuals to delay their retirement age.

As Politico puts it, this would mean that someone who would begin receiving their full Social Security benefits when they turn 67 years old but wants to take six weeks of paid leave wouldn’t draw Social Security benefits until six weeks after their 67th birthday.

But Rubio’s plan is much more sinister beneath the surface. While this approach is bad for retirees, it’s also bad for the future of Social Security as a whole.

“This seems like something [Republicans] are doing to get good headlines. What this really is is a cut to Social Security,” Linda Benesch, spokesperson for Social Security Works told ThinkProgress. “The proposal that Rubio and Ivanka are reportedly considering involves an increase in the retirement age of people who choose to take leave. An increase in the retirement age is always a benefit cut. Either people are getting benefits for a shorter amount of time or if they choose to claim later their bonus for deferring benefits will be smaller.”

Rubio’s plan fails to address what would happen to a large portion of Social Security beneficiaries who are not of retirement-age, yet rely on Social Security to live.

Of the 45 million Americans who collect payments from the Social Security program, over one-third (almost 17 million) are not retired workers, they’re the 5 million  spouses and children of disabled workers, the 7 million  spouses and children of deceased workers, and the 5 million disabled workers.

It is unclear whether the Rubio-Ivanka plan would cut disability and survivor benefits for people who take parental leave as well.

“This proposal treats Social Security like a private account that can be borrowed against rather than what it actually is, a social insurance program to protect against risks that can befall all workers – aging, disability, or death,” said Benesch.

Proponents of this approach towards paid family leave see this as the first step in privatizing Social Security. In an article written in the conservative publication The Federalist last week, Carrie Lukas wrote:

Encouraging people to think about Social Security’s assets as if those benefits are their property for use now or at retirement could even encourage people to want to move more in that direction and transform the current pay-as-you-go system into one that pre-funds future benefits and with assets that belong to individuals. That may sound farfetched. But it’s no more farfetched than the idea that, after decades of promoting the idea of partial privatization, at long last, public opinion will undergo a sea change to embrace personal accounts or other substantial Social Security reforms.

Lukas is president of the conservative Independent Women’s Forum, a non-profit funded by the Koch Brothers, who have long advocated for privatized Social Security.

This is the second policy issue Rubio and Ivanka Trump have teamed up on, the first being an expanded child tax credit. They both advocated for an expanded, refundable child tax credit to help working families in favor a slightly higher 22 percent corporate tax rate. Rubio’s amendment was ultimately rejected by Republicans in the Senate because it was too expensive. President Trump was adamant about a permanent 20 percent corporate tax rate, which costs $1 trillion dollars on it’s own. Ultimately, the Senate budged and voted for a 21 percent corporate tax rate — without Rubio’s amendment.