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Bice ponders family leave bill as she juggles multiple priorities

It's incumbent upon women to 'step up to the plate' on thoughtful policy, she says

Rep. Stephanie Bice, R-Okla.
Rep. Stephanie Bice, R-Okla. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Stephanie Bice is a busy woman. She sits on four committees — double the usual most House members get — represents the class of 2020 on the Republican leadership team, and is the vice chair of the Republican Main Street Caucus. Oh, and she’s chairing a subcommittee with a modest mission of fixing all that’s wrong with Congress. 

So, perhaps it’s no surprise that the Oklahoma Republican appreciates the need to take some time for other activities every now and then: She’s helping lead a bipartisan effort to pass a paid family leave bill.

Even though the United States is the only industrialized nation without a paid leave policy, getting a bill through this Congress will be tough, in large part because her party is looking to cut spending, not create another entitlement program or impose new business mandates. 

Bice took time out of her busy schedule recently to discuss those challenges, plus her hatred of candy corn. 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Q: You serve on four committees. Also, you have two kids. So, do you just not sleep or what?

A: Yeah, I have a doppelganger running around out there [laughs].

I never anticipated having four committees. I really was excited for the opportunity to serve on the Appropriations Committee, [and] Chairwoman Granger asked if I would consider sitting on the Budget Committee as the Appropriations rep, and I thought that was a great opportunity for me to really learn the process. 

And then I got a call from the Speaker [Kevin McCarthy], who said, “I’d like you to consider being on House [Administration Committee]. “With all due respect, Mr. Speaker, you’ve just waived me on to two additional committees and I’m on Appropriations.” And he said, “Yeah, it’d be great.” So, here we are.

Q: You’re working with Chrissy Houlahan [D-Pa.] on leading a bipartisan group of six trying to get paid family leave. Some say it’s never going to happen because Congress won’t figure out how to pay for it. Why do you think it can?

A: I’m a glass-half-full kind of person and, yes, there are going to be some challenges. But the [Family and Medical Leave Act] was passed 30 years ago, and, really, the idea for FMLA was to begin the conversation around paid family leave. But here we are, 30 years later, with no actual paid family leave policy in place.

Yes, the pay-for is going to be a huge obstacle to overcome, but I think Chrissy and I both recognize that there are ways to do this that don’t have a significant fiscal impact. Sixty-three percent of families with children have both parents working outside the home; these are conversations we need to have.

Q: You’re chairwoman of the [House Administration] Modernization Subcommittee. What’s on your agenda this year? The House Select Committee on Modernization of Congress put forth a lot of suggestions that have yet to be implemented.

A: The recommendations that the select committee put together — there were over 200 of them. … The challenge for me is, I didn’t sit on the select committee for the last four years. So, part of the last month as the chair of that subcommittee has been asking a lot of questions, doing a lot of reading on past Congresses and what their focus was, and then figuring out where the priorities are right now.

There are some things that are important for the conference right now — like a committee deconfliction tool, which will allow for leadership and committee staff to figure out how many committee hearings are happening on one morning or afternoon so members can try to attend as many of those as possible. We’re also looking at things like a block schedule, so that each committee has a designated time every day, every week that they have the ability to meet, whether it’s a full committee or a subcommittee. This is especially important for me, given the fact that I have four full committees and six subcommittees.

There’s been a lot of conversation around whether or not staff should be paid monthly or bimonthly. One of the things I would like to see is, we have a lot of young, newly married couples on the Capitol grounds that may be starting a family, [but] there are limited child care options.

Q: You talked about staff, so just a quick follow up: One of the things that the select committee recommended — and ultimately got implemented — was an increase in the Member Representational Allowance. But your party is calling for fiscal restraint. So how do you balance those two conflicting desires?

A: My understanding is that the MRA had not been increased in many years. So there’s this inflationary gap that we’ve experienced when it comes to funding the offices.

Especially with inflation, prices on everything have gone up. So, we’re having to figure out how to make sure that you’re not only paying staff well, but able to cover the expenses of your technology needs, your mail needs, rent, electricity, cable, [or] whatever back in the district offices. And some of my colleagues that have multiple district offices are being impacted even greater. The MRA discussion is something we should look at, but it was also something that was probably a long time coming. 

Q: You’re part of a cohort of younger GOP women that got elected to Congress. But at the same time, there’s been a gender gap among voters. Why do you think your peers aren’t joining you in the GOP?

A: Well, I think they are. The problem is, we haven’t really seen ourselves in these roles until the last several years; it hasn’t been a priority. Speaker McCarthy really put a focus in the 2020 election cycle of helping get women, minorities [and] veterans to step up to the plate and run. And you saw the largest number of those demographics elected in the 2020 election cycle. We now have 33 [Republican women] that are serving in Congress.

I decided last minute to run for freshman class president for the 117th [Congress] class. And I found out later on that I’m the first female GOP freshman class president ever. And I think it’s incumbent upon women to sort of step up to the plate, provide reasonable, thoughtful, conservative ideas to try to move the party forward.

Q: So, you’re turning the tide?

A: That’s what I hope. You’re going to see some incredible candidates. You’re going to see some more women stepping up to the plate this cycle, too, and I think you’ll see them succeed.

Quick Hits

What’s the last book that you read?

Atomic Habits,” [by James Clear]

In politics, can the ends justify the means?

In some cases, yes.

What is your least popular opinion?

Candy corn is disgusting.

What is one thing that your friends know about you that your constituents probably don’t?

I used to be a food reviewer for a local publication. 

If I had just 24 hours in Oklahoma City, what do I need to do or see?

The first thing you have to do is see the Oklahoma City National Memorial.

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