In one of her first speeches on the floor of the United States Senate, Senator Patty Murray urged passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act. In making the case for family and medical leave, she shared her own personal experiences as a caregiver and new parent. Her remarks follow:
Mr. President, I am pleased to be here on the floor of the U.S. Senate to speak in strong support of the Family and Medical Leave Act.
First of all, my heartfelt thanks go to Senator Dodd and all of my colleagues who have worked so hard and spent so much time and energy working to enact this legislation, and my thanks as well to President Clinton, who has championed this legislation in his campaign.
Family and medical leave are issues that I have worked on successfully at the State level, and I am excited by the prospect that family and medical leave will be the first major legislation to pass in my first days as a Senator.
The Family and Medical Leave Act is an important bill for many reasons. Its passage will mean, finally, that when those of us who go to work every day are faced with a family crisis, we will not be forced to choose between our job and our family.
As a State senator, I spent a great deal of time and energy on this issue because of a friend who faced a personal crisis. A mother of a 16-year-old son, dying of leukemia, was forced to make a choice between taking time off to be with her son in his final few months of losing her job. Not only was she faced with a personal emotional crisis but with an economic crisis as well. At a time when hospital bills and doctors bills were piling up, she had to choose between her paycheck and her son. That was not right.
As I have championed this issue, I have met numerous people whose lives have been touched by the lack of a national family and medical leave policy. However, when I most clearly understood this issue was when it touched me personally.
My father has had multiple sclerosis since I was very young. My mother was his primary caregiver. A year and a half ago, my mother had a heart attack and bypass surgery. Suddenly, my six brothers and sisters and I were faced with the question of who could take time off to care for the people we love the most, the people who cared for us for so long.
It was then I realized the personal nature of this bill and why it is so important. My parents did not want to be a burden to any of us, and we did not want our parents to feel that they were a burden.
A single family leave policy would have allowed any of us a few weeks necessary to see them through their medical crisis but none was available.
When I was 26 years old and worked as an executive secretary in Seattle, I became pregnant with my first child. At that time, even though I was working out of economic necessity, there were no options for working mothers. A family leave policy would have enabled me to devote my attention to the changes in my family. It would also have given me a very important message about our country: That our families are as important as our jobs. This is an urgent message today as well, when we have drug and alcohol problems, rising violent crime among our youth, and families that are failing.
Today, we are one of the few industrialized nations that does not offer family leave to those who need it.
If the argument against family leave is that businesses cannot afford it, my response is simple: In order to compete in a global economy, we must address the needs of American workers. We must provide family leave , as our foreign competitors do.
We are a nation of working families--single-parent families and two-parent families. My family is an example of such a family. I am of the infamous sandwich generation, charged with caring for my own children and my parents at the same time. I personally understand the emotional consequences. I also know that when my family is safe and well cared for, I do a better job at work. Family leave is one small step in ensuring that America has a productive work force.
The reasons for passing the Family and Medical Leave Act are clear: It is sound economic policy, and it is sound social policy. Its passage will send a powerful message to our Nation that our Government finally is beginning to understand who we are today; that we are out there struggling to raise our families and care for the people we love. At the same time, we are the backbone of our economy. When we care for those we love, when they are critically ill or unable to care for themselves, without fear of losing our jobs, our Nation will have taken a giant step toward becoming a caring nation. And only a caring nation can be an economically strong one.
I believe that the message of the last election was loud and clear: As a nation, we must begin to care for each other once again.
If one mother is able to sit with her seriously ill son without fear of losing her life's savings, if one son is able to hold the hand of his dying mother, if one of us--you or I--is able to care for someone we love when they need us the most, then the time and the energy spent on the passage of this bill is worth it.
Mr. President, I urge my colleagues to vote for this important legislation.