A 25-year-old college graduate is struggling to pay back his student loans. He gets a call from his sister breaking the news that their mother was just killed by a drunk driver. Before they can lay her to rest, they receive a bill from the government, demanding thousands of dollars. What for? To cover the cost of the parental leave benefits their mom took during their first few months of life.
Rubio's plan is as unnecessary as it is cynical and cruel.
Clawing back benefits in the event of untimely death is only one of the utterly outrageous provisions that are at the heart of this cynical proposal. Under the Orwellian guise of being "pro-family," the proposal would actually undermine the economic security that Social Security provides working families.
Rubio claims that the bill provides paid parental leave, but all it does is give new parents the option of funding their own leave—through a cut in their future Social Security benefits. The choice is no choice at all. Rubio would force workers to either forfeit spending time with their newborn children or forfeit the ability to retire without becoming a burden on those very children.
Unbelievably, if the new parent dies before becoming eligible for Social Security, Rubio would direct the Social Security Administration to treat every dollar of paid leave as an overpayment and claw every penny back.
Rubio originally introduced the plan, alongside Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah), as the New Parents Act of 2021. Recently, Rubio incorporated the plan into the "Providing for Life Act" framework, his response to the Supreme Court's forced-birth ruling, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization.
Consistent with that barbaric ruling, Rubio believes that also forcing people—disproportionately women—to choose between spending time caring for their loved ones today and a secure retirement in the future is "pro-life." So is forcing their families to pay a death tax if they die young.
The amount of lost benefits would be substantial. Someone who takes three parental leaves would lose about 10 percent of their lifetime Social Security benefits. Those are benefits that working people can ill afford to lose. Social Security's benefits are already too low, averaging only $1,539 a month.
Our country faces a looming retirement crisis. This proposal will make that crisis worse. Younger Americans, who are less likely to have other forms of retirement income, will rely on Social Security even more than their parents and grandparents.
Forcing new parents to choose between their current and future economic security is one more effort by Rubio and his colleagues to undermine our Social Security system. The Rubio proposal would, to borrow a phrase from former Congressman David Stockman (R-Mich.), "make it look like [politicians are] doing something for the beneficiary population when they are doing something to it." Social Security is intended to provide financial support to grieving families in the form of survivors benefits—not to make things worse by sending them a bill!
Republican politicians have a longstanding goal of privatizing Social Security. Privatization would convert Social Security's wage insurance into inadequate savings accounts that would subject earned benefits to the vagaries of the stock market and force workers to pay enormous management fees to Wall Street. Republicans tried to achieve this directly in 2005, but the American people overwhelmingly rejected their plan. Rubio's proposal would seed the ground to make privatization more acceptable in the future.
Rubio's proposal would seed the ground to make privatization more acceptable in the future.
A leading privatization proponent admitted as much, stating:
Americans are not going to accept the wholesale elimination of Social Security—at least not any time soon… The Social Security parental leave proposal should be considered in this context….This approach could encourage an important mental shift…includ[ing] how Americans think about Social Security, which has long been considered the untouchable third rail of politics…. Indeed, encouraging people to think about Social Security's assets as if those benefits are their property for use now or at retirement could even [cause] public opinion [to] undergo a sea change to embrace personal accounts or other substantial Social Security reforms.
For everyone who values Social Security, we all must stay vigilant and not be fooled. Beware of Trojan Horse proposals that provide some economic security today in exchange for less economic security tomorrow.
Rubio's plan is as unnecessary as it is cynical and cruel. America is the richest country in the world at the richest moment in its history. If we require the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share, we can easily afford to create a real paid family and medical leave program. And expand, not cut, Social Security's modest benefits.