Family Values and Public Policy during the
Bush Years: The Case of the Family and
Medical Leave Act
Steven K. Wisensale
Unlike Ronald Reagan, who at least had a Republican Senate to work with during his eight-year term, George Bush faced a Democratic-controlled Congress for four years. But despite significant resistance from the opposition party, Bush would eventually take credit for several important legislative achievements in domestic policy during his tenure. However, one area that was very controversial throughout his term was the dichotomy that some believed existed between the White House’s discussion of family values on one hand and the president’s position on several family policy initiatives on the other. One issue in particular that illustrates this dichotomy extremely well is family leave.
Although the first family leave bill in the nation’s history was introduced in 1985 by Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.) in the House and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) in the Senate, the debates that followed failed to produce any legislation. Both Reagan and Bush staunchly opposed the enactment of such a measure. Meanwhile, a more intense debate occurred in state legislatures, where, over an eight-year period, while the original proposal was stalled in Washington, almost thirty states and the District of Columbia adopted some form of family leave legislation.1
Unlike Reagan, who never saw a family leave bill cross his desk, George Bush vetoed the proposal twice, once in 1990 and again in 1992. Each time Congress failed to muster enough votes to override his veto. However, prior to his second veto, Bush submitted a counterproposal to Congress that replaced government mandates with tax incentives for those businesses willing to provide family leave to their employees. Rejected by a Democratic-controlled Congress, Bush responded by vetoing the opposition party’s bill in late September, just four months after Dan Quayle’s attack on Murphy Brown, a month after the Republican nomi-