In response to my earlier post, Dana Goldstein points me toward a bill introduced last year by Chris Dodd and Ted Stevens, which would guarantee up to 8 weeks of paid family/medical/maternity leave. This seems like a good plan in that it's means-tested and has a fairly progressive benefit structure, and also doesn't simply mandate that employers put up the money. On the other hand, it still has a suspect funding source (a 0.4 percent payroll tax, split between employers and employees--though of course an economist would warn that it doesn't matter on whom a payroll tax is technically levied). In general, an increased reliance on the (regressive, bad-for-job-growth) payroll tax is something liberals should want to stay away from. Political realities tend to make it more attractive for programs to have their own dedicated revenue source, but it would be far better to fund a worthwhile idea like this out of general governmental revenue raised through as efficient a tax as possible--like the progressive consumption tax described by Robert Frank in the (very thought-provoking) symposium in the current issue of Democracy.
But, in any case, thanks to Dana for highlighting the Dodd–Stevens bill--it certainly merits a serious look on Capitol Hill. See also The G Spot for more family-leave wonkery.