WASHINGTON -- Challenging President Bush to support family values on the eve of the Republican convention, the Senate yesterday approved a bill that would require employers to grant unpaid leave for childbirth and family emergencies.
Mr. Bush vetoed an earlier version of the bill, insisting that government should not dictate to employers. But family-leave backers hope election-year pressures will force him to change his mind on a popular issue.
Mr. Bush's "failure to support this is failure to reinforce what is a very important part of his platform," said Sen. Christopher S. Bond, R-Mo. "I think the president is just plain wrong on this one."
Campaigning in 1988, Mr. Bush spoke out in favor of family leave. But later he made it clear that he believes companies should offer the benefit voluntarily.
Supporters of family leave say Mr. Bush will pay a heavy price politically if he vetoes it again. Polls show 70 percent of the public supports the bill.
"It's a different political season and a different political topography," said Helen Norton of the Women's Legal Defense Fund. "The importance of women's issues and the importance of family values is much greater." But Ms. Norton acknowledged that supporters lack the votes in the House to override a veto. The House is expected to take up the measure next month.
Business groups continue to oppose the bill. They say it makes no sense to require companies to provide a new benefit when the economy can't seem to shake off the recession. Yet they also see that the issue could be used against Mr. Bush.
Nevertheless, Mr. Bush shows no sign of yielding. "I have been told by the White House the president still intends to veto this bill," said business lobbyist Mary Tavenner.
The bill would require employers of 50 or more to grant up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for childbirth, adoption, or to care for a seriously ill child, spouse or parent. It would cover about half the workers in the country, but only 5 percent of businesses.