A House panel on Tuesday voted 24-16 along party lines to advance legislation that would provide federal employees with up to 12 weeks of paid family leave each year, over objections from Republicans about a last-minute report from the Congressional Budget Office.

The Comprehensive Paid Leave for Federal Employees Act (H.R. 564) would provide all federal workers, including U.S. Postal Service employees, with up to 12 weeks each year of paid leave to deal with a personal illness, to care for a family member suffering from illness, or in connection with a family member going on or returning from active duty. The bill mirrors a recently enacted law providing federal employees with 12 weeks of paid parental leave per year.

An amendment adopted at the start of the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s consideration of the legislation would clarify that loss of pregnancy, failed adoption and births by federal employees as part of a surrogacy arrangement also would qualify for the new leave benefit.

Committee Chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who introduced the legislation, said the COVID-19 pandemic showed how badly workers both in the federal government and the private sector need access to comprehensive paid leave in the event of an illness or other emergency.

“Millions of Americans have had the agonizing experience of having to give up a paycheck in order to recover from illness, care for a loved one or to help at home when a family member has been deployed, and families of federal workers are no different,” she said. “[Some] opponents have said that federal employees already have paid annual and sick leave benefits and that is true, but these serve a fundamentally different purpose. Federal workers should not have to deplete their sick and annual leave because of Congress’ unwillingness to provide paid leave to deal with longer term hardships.”

Republicans chafed at what they called yet another “perk” for unelected “bureaucrats” and objected to the lack of a solid cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office.

“Rather than ensuring that agencies are meeting their missions, especially in the wake of COVID-related shutdowns, we are considering expanding another benefit for the already well paid and well protected federal workforce,” said Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the committee’s ranking member. “[Combined] with federal holidays, a federal employee might work for only eight months of the year, and even less in some cases. And the majority does not even know how much this will cost.”

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., took exception to Comer’s choice of words when referring to federal employees and their benefits.

“Frankly, over the last decade, my Republican friends, especially when they are in the majority, have never missed an opportunity to demonize the federal workforce,” Connolly said. “They’re not public servants, they’re bureaucrats. They don’t have a benefit package like other employees in America, they have perks. The language is deliberate: to demonize federal employees, to somehow make them fat bureaucrats who don’t really do a job. It’s a disservice to the men and women who serve our constituents, whether it be [at] the [Veterans Affairs Administration], Social Security Administration, the [Internal Revenue Service] or at our national parks.”

Maloney responded to Comer by unveiling that the committee had received a preliminary cost estimate from CBO, and that the program would cost $53 million in direct spending over the next decade, not including the impact on the U.S. Postal Service, since that agency is considered “off budget.” Republicans cried foul at the fact that they were not provided with the report prior to the committee meeting, and made multiple failed attempts to postpone committee votes and adjourn the meeting early.

“I am dismayed that I’m in the middle of a hearing and apparently the majority has a CBO report that the minority didn’t receive,” said Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz. “That’s unacceptable. If this really is the important topic that it has been made out to be, that information should have been shared with the minority.”

Biggs and Comer said that they and their Republican colleagues “don’t believe” the CBO score, citing the lack of analysis of the bill’s impact on the Postal Service, as well as a lack of scoring of indirect budget impacts on the rest of the federal government.

“Now that I can see the report, what it does is they’re taking a straight line, nondiscursive view of this, so it doesn’t include everything,” Biggs said. “There’s nothing about the macroeconomic impact, the potential for hiring temporary employees that might be necessary, and there’s nothing about productivity or increased backlogs. So this chart here quite frankly is misrepresentative of what it will ultimately cost to implement this new program, and I’m dismayed that it’s become part of our discussion today.”

Maloney noted that CBO generally only does full analyses of pending legislation once a bill has advanced out of committee. The bill now goes to the floor for that full analysis and consideration by the entire House.

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