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GOP Rep. Ann Wagner Discusses Prospect Of National Paid Leave


If you were listening closely to the State of the Union last night, you might have leaned in at an unexpected whoop when the president arrived at this line.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I am also proud to be the first president to include in my budget a plan for nationwide paid family leave so that every new parent has the chance to bond with their newborn child.

ANN WAGNER: (Screaming) Yes.

KELLY: That hollered, yes, came from Congresswoman Ann Wagner, Missouri Republican. She and Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio have been pushing for a paid leave law.

We are following up on lots of threads from the State of the Union throughout this hour, but we thought we'd start here, with one of the few issues that maybe has a bipartisan future.

Congresswoman Wagner, welcome. And if I may start by asking, what came over you there?

WAGNER: I have been a proponent of paid family leave for years. I think I gave the same kind of shout when President Obama was also giving his State of the Union.

KELLY: So that was a bipartisan whoop we heard last night.

WAGNER: It most certainly was. And I'm certainly working on a paid family leave bill in a bipartisan fashion. I'm a mom - a mother of three.

KELLY: I was going to ask if there's a personal story behind your push for this.

WAGNER: Sure. And - mother, a grandmother and someone who has employed new moms and dads. And having a baby is both a time of, obviously, great joy and, oftentimes, anxiety, too. So babies change their parents' lives for the better, but they also introduce some serious new challenges and costs. And along with rent and groceries and medical bills, diapers, countless baby supplies, sleepless nights - you could go on and on and on.

And the last thing a new mom should ever have to worry about is whether she is going to lose her job or miss a paycheck because she's chosen to have a child and start a family.

KELLY: So let's get into the details. Your plan, in a nutshell, would allow people to postpone Social Security benefits, retire a few months later down the road, in order to use that money to take parental leave now. Is that right?

WAGNER: That's correct. We have a plan here that would allow young moms and dads to take kind of an advance on their Social Security benefits to help them during this difficult transition. At their retirement - again, it's totally voluntary if you want to do it this way - the worker who chose to take this option for a paid family leave will repay any parental benefits received through either, one, a temporary benefit reduction upon retirement, or a delay in their retirement to offset the costs.

Because what's so important, Mary Louise, is that we do not affect the future solvency of the Social Security trust fund. And we're making sure that we do not affect any senior who's currently benefiting...


WAGNER: ...From Social Security.

KELLY: Nonetheless, a lot of Democrats say this is the wrong way to go. I'll put to you a point that Senator Tammy Duckworth made to me when I was interviewing her last year. And she said, why should I have to rob from my retirement in order to take care of my children now?

I mean, to her point, and to the point you've made, other countries manage both to provide paid leave and leave retirement intact. Why is that not possible here?

WAGNER: Well, we are running such a high deficit at this point, and our national debt is over $21 trillion. It's my feeling, from a conservative standpoint, that we really can't fix this problem or address it through new taxes or mandates.

KELLY: Do you have Democratic co-sponsors for your plan?

WAGNER: We do have Democrat support for our plan.

KELLY: Officially co-sponsoring, or saying they would vote for it?

WAGNER: Well, we haven't dropped the piece of legislation yet, but we have a number of folks that are working on it. And Ivanka Trump and others at the White House are very, very interested in how we pulled this together. Senator Joni Ernst, Senator Lee - there are a number of Republicans and Democrats. I think we can find real common ground, I hope, on this.

KELLY: Missouri Republican Ann Wagner. Congresswoman, thanks so much for your time.

WAGNER: Thank you, Mary Louise, very much for shining a light on, I think, this very important issue that I hope will bring us all together. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.