Federal workers in the US seem set to be given 12 weeks of paid parental leave – in return for Donald Trump being given his cherished Space Force.
Speaking to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity, Democratic and Republican aides confirmed that leaders on Capitol Hill were nearing agreement in negotiations on an annual defense policy bill.
The agreement would trade a major expansion of benefits to federal workers for the president’s key legacy initiative.
Federal workers can currently take unpaid leave.
The agreement is not finalized and comes after extensive behind-the-scenes battling on the annual defense measure, which has passed Congress every year since the Kennedy administration. Further details were not available.
The parental leave provision would be a victory for federal workers, who would face benefit cuts under Trump’s budget submissions. Those proposed cuts have always been ignored by Congress, but pension changes were approved under Republican control of the House.
The parental leave issue has been a priority for Democrats such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who weighed in forcefully this week.
The potential deal was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
In its report, the Washington Post cautioned: “The president could … be more eager to cement the deal than fiscal-hawk conservative Republicans in Congress, who might complain about the cost.”
Nonetheless, Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior adviser, said such a provision would “mark a HUGE step forward towards making paid leave a reality for all Americans”.
Numerous details regarding the Space Force idea remain to be worked out and funding would be delivered through separate spending legislation also taking shape behind the scenes.
According to the Post, Trump has become “increasingly fixated” on creating the Space Force as a way to leave a mark on the presidency.
Going into an election year, he faces likely impeachment in the House. Creating the Space Force, even if it means reversing course on previous attempts to slash benefits for federal workers, might represent compensation of a sort.
Speaking to a military audience in San Diego in 2018, Trump explained his thinking.
“We may even have a Space Force,” he said, “develop another one: Space Force. We have the air force, we’ll have the Space Force.
“We have the army, the navy. You know, I was saying it the other day – because we’re doing a tremendous amount of work in space – I said, ‘Maybe we need a new force. We’ll call it the Space Force.’ And I was not really serious. And then I said, ‘What a great idea. Maybe we’ll have to do that.’”
Prior to the reported deal over paid leave for federal workers, the Space Force idea met considerable resistance within the Department of Defense.
In August, Trump staged a ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House, formally creating Space Command and promising to “boldly deter aggression and outpace America’s rivals by far”.