House Democrats’ massive defense budget policy plan includes hundreds of provisions affecting Defense Department personnel but also one big proposal targeting the Veterans Affairs workforce: paid parental leave for all department employees.
The measure, included in the House Armed Services Committee’s latest draft of the annual defense authorization bill unveiled Thursday, would extend the Paid Parental Leave benefit awarded to most federal employees last year to all staffers at VA, the Federal Aviation Administration, and a few other agencies “inadvertently omitted” from the original policy change.
Supporters of the plan blamed their exclusion on technical issues with how certain employees are classified in government statutes. More than 90,000 employees in the VA system alone would be affected by the change.
If the new proposal becomes law, those workers could see up to 12 weeks of paid leave for care of a newborn, adopting a child or fostering a minor.
The defense authorization bill typically includes provisions focused solely on the military and connected agencies. But last year, in an effort to win over progressive lawmakers skeptical of significant defense spending increases, House leaders included parental leave for federal workers as part of the nearly 1,000-page bill.
But the move has raised objections among some conservative lawmakers, who argue that issues outside the Defense Department should be left to other legislation.
Among them are House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, who on Thursday listed the proposal as an item “not within committee jurisdiction” and said he has concerns about the “mandatory spending implications” of the plan.
Including VA workers among those eligible for paid parental leave has seen bipartisan support in recent months, however. Earlier this year, House Veterans’ Affairs Committee ranking member Phil Roe, R-Tenn., introduced stand-alone legislation correcting the issue, calling the plan to give VA workers the same benefit as their other federal employee peers “unquestionably the right thing to do.”
Under the leave benefit language approved by Congress last year, federal workers must have held their current government post for at least one year and must commit to at least 12 more weeks of work after their leave to be eligible for the benefit. The new provision goes into effect Oct. 1.
House Armed Services Committee members will debate a final draft of the annual defense authorization bill next Wednesday, with a goal of a full chamber vote before August.
The legislation has passed out of Congress for 59 consecutive years, making it one of the few reliable legislative vehicles on Capitol Hill for a host of policy changes and budget priorities.