If conservatives cede the field to progressives on this issue, we will have no input into its outcome. The next time Democrats hold the presidency and Congress, they will impose their vision of maternity and paternity leave, whether we like it or not. To imagine how that might turn out, look at Obamacare: a bloated collection of recycled Beltway ideas spiced up with a few handouts to the insurance lobby and other interest groups, simultaneously unworkable and unrepealable. It was sold as cheap and easy to manage, and has proven to be anything but.
Republican involvement was never going to save Obamacare—the Democrats’ huge legislative majorities in 2009 made Republicans’ input unnecessary—but a program acceptable to both sides might have been better constructed and more successful at solving the problem. Instead, we have a program that makes life worse for the average American family. The same would likely be true of any new Democratic benefit scheme, including paid maternity leave.
So what would a conservative paid leave policy look like? As I’ve said, transparency in the costs is a must. As much as people hate taxes, there are some things they are willing to pay for. To see if this is one of them, we must present the choice honestly, with all the potential pluses and minuses. If it would really cost the average American less than $2 a week, as Bernie promised, many people would sign right up. But we must have all of the facts before we decide.