The $602 billion defense budget bill to fund the Pentagon is still hanging fire in Congress. It’s being held up over some controversial amendments — most notably the requirement that women register for the draft. But there’s another provision that could change the way the Pentagon deals with parenting. It would expand family leave to include new parents who are adopting a child and it was submitted by House Armed Services Committee Representative Tom MacArthur. He spoke with NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams.
Williams: Why is this provision necessary?
MacArthur: Because currently if two people that are married are in the military they’re frequently at different bases. If they have a baby then they would be able to both take leave. Maternity leave and then there would be two weeks of paternity leave. If they choose to adopt a child, the mother gets leave and the father doesn’t and that’s what I’m trying to change.
Williams: You know what this means because you are also an adoptive father, right?
MacArthur: I am and it’s interesting, Mary Alice, the bill means a lot to me because I have adopted two out of three of my children. But as I got into working the bill through committee and I tried very hard to make all of my bills bipartisan bills — this one stretched me a little bit, to be honest, because I introduced the legislation. It got widespread support and we rolled it into the defense bill. And then a leading Democrat in the committee wanted to change my bill a little bit and it was hard for me at first because I not only have adopted two of my children, but my oldest child died shortly before we adopted our third child. So my two living children are my two adopted children. And here’s someone sort of messing with my bill. In the end though I went to Susan David, she’s the ranking Democrat on the committee, and I said I think your amendment is good, let’s work together on it. We ended up actually doing some joint press together and a joint announcement. And here I am, a New Jersey Republican, working with a liberal, California Democrat to try to do something that matters to both of us. It matters to her too. Her dad is a World War II survivor and we both really want to see this get done.
Williams: How many military families would be affected by this provision and how significant would this be for them?
MacArthur: We have 84,000 families in the military where both the husband and wife served together and they rarely are together. Things like this really matter to try to help our families that are in the military together to build a family life, and especially in those early weeks after you have a child or adopt a child that you have a chance to bond with that child.
Williams: Many civilian adoptive parents don’t receive the same maternity and paternity leave as biological parents. Is this something that you would address going forward?
MacArthur: I think it would be a great idea for businesses to provide that. My focus right now is just the military which is what I can impact. I think it’s a growing move among companies to recognize that adoption is another way of building a family. There’s so many children in the world today that need to be loved. There’s so many parents that want to build a family that way, and if we can encourage it, by all means I think it’s something we ought to do.
Williams: There are some, let me broaden them out and amend it if you would, there are some controversial amendments in the bill. Is there anything in the final that you would like to see dropped, or that you feel particularly strongly about like keeping McGuire-Dix Lakehurst?
MacArthur: Well that certainly matters very much to me. I was able to get in the bill the same no base realignment and closure process. The same language as last year is in this year’s bill. I very much support that and I think that needs to remain. And there’s some other provisions that I was able to get in regarding missile defense that I think are really important, not only to South Jersey, but also to our national security. I would support the bill as it stands right now. I’m sure that there will be changes when the bill goes to the Senate and it gets changed and we’ll have a conference to work on that.