- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 1999

When President Clinton signed legislation in 1993 giving parents 12 weeks of unpaid leave without losing their jobs, critics warned that it wouldn’t be long before Mr. Clinton paraded his beneficence by insisting on paid leave. Few people could afford the luxury of three months off without pay, they said. Only those wealthy enough not to need the unpaid-leave benefit would be able to take advantage of it.
Sure enough, late last month Mr. Clinton issued new rules inviting states to divert unemployment taxes collected under the guise of aiding jobless workers to parents who aren’t jobless at all, just on the 12-week leave. The reason? “The current law meets just a fraction of the need,” Mr. Clinton said. “And the number one reason families give for not taking advantage of Family and Medical Leave is that they simply can’t afford to take time off without a paycheck.” The critics, in short, were exactly right.
Advocates in four states Maryland, Massachusetts, Vermont and Washington apparently pushed for the paid leave. The rules aren’t final yet. They are to take effect Jan. 17 after a public comment period. Even then, state legislatures would have to approve the diversion. Mr. Clinton said in his remarks that he hoped state lawmakers in those states and elsewhere would take advantage of the new rules. The booming economy and low rates of unemployment mean states need not worry about running out of funds to cover the needs of the unemployed, he said.
But that depends on how many people sign up for the roughly $200 a week in unemployment benefits the proposal allows. Handing out “free” money to persons who don’t even have to look for a job to receive it as current unemployment law provides and breeding additional dependence on government handouts may generate more demand than Mr. Clinton thinks. The feds have had to bail out states that have run out of unemployment benefits before and may wind up doing so again.
As a matter of policy, the Clinton rules are another step in the direction of family engineering for an administration that already has taken so many. Ostensibly it is a good idea to have parents home raising their own children, an ideal to which Mr. Clinton paid the usual husky, lip-biting homage during his announcement. But note that only certain parents would receive this benefit: those who leave their children behind to go into the work force in the first place. The mother who never left home and who reserves her labor for child-rearing rather than a paycheck receives no benefit here at all.
One wonders why a male executive who decides to leave the office for the nursery for 12 weeks should be eligible for unemployment pay but not the mother. Why tax the single-worker family to pay for the unemployment benefits of the dual-earner family? Only because Mr. Clinton says so, that’s why. It would be far better to cut taxes for everyone and make the job of raising children more affordable for all, whether the parent decides to work at the office or in the home.
It is precisely that kind of policy debate that Congress should be having before parents on leave start lining up at the unemployment window. But Mr. Clinton, rightly skeptical that Congress would ever agree to the diversion of jobless funds for family-engineering purposes, simply decreed the diversion in the form of an executive order. A July 4, 1998, article in the Los Angeles Times under the headline, “Clinton to bypass Congress in Blitz of Executive Orders,” reported the president would resort to such tactics to press his agenda: “Frustrated by a GOP-controlled Congress that lately has rebuffed him on almost every front, President Clinton plans a blitz of executive orders during the next few weeks, part of a White House strategy to make progress on Clinton’s domestic agenda with or without congressional help.”
So it is not just the liberty of the American family but congressional authority at which Mr. Clinton is chipping away. Such matters are irrelevant to a president ready and willing to slur anyone who dares to disagree with him on the matter as anti-family. But they ought to matter to lawmakers and families who will suffer as a consequence.

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