Republicans are waging a “war on women,” charges the Democrats’ new national chair, and her party is seizing on that war — real or imagined– to regain ground lost in the 2010 mid-term elections and boost President Obama’s re-election.
The stakes are simple: No ‘Gender Gap,’ you lose: Gender Gap and you win,” Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List, said in Seattle on Thursday. Emily’s List raises campaign cash for pro-choice Democratic women candidates.
She’s right, and both parties know it. According to recent national polls, Obama has a job approval rating 11 or 12 points higher among women voters than among men. Democrats won Congress and the presidency in 2008 and 1992 (the “Year of the Woman”) with big turnouts among women voters, only to suffer big losses in Congress two years later as millions of women did not go to the polls.
The 240-member Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives contains just 24 GOP congresswomen. But a bevy of “Gentle Ladies” — including two from Washington — took to the House floor on Tuesday to defend their party’s record. Their theme: “I am a Republican woman.”
“While our backgrounds and professions may be different, one thing is not: We are all conservative reformers — committed to leaving America better for our children and grandchildren than it was for us,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, R-Wash., a member of the House GOP leadership.
“Women are at the center of this debate, and House Republican women are committed to leading it,” she added.
Yet Republicans’ actions — in state capitals and the U.S. Capitol — are offering the Democrats a route back from 2010. “This is opening the eyes of many, and reopening the eyes of some,” Schriock said in an interview.
In Idaho, for instance, a Republican-controlled Legislature recently passed legislation that bans all abortions after 20 weeks. Exceptions are not allowed, not for rape or incest or fetal abnormality or emotional health of the mother.
Defending the no-exception rule, GOP state Rep. Shannon McMillan intoned: “Is not the child of that rape or incest also a victim? It didn’t ask to be here. It was here under violent circumstances perhaps, but that was through no fault of its own.”
Economic issues are coming to the fore: In states from Wisconsin to Ohio to Tennessee, newly elected Republican governors and legislators have moved to restrict the collective bargaining rights of public employees: 73 percent of public school teachers are women. Salaries paid to women, across America, still total only 78 percent of the pay given to men.
“We live longer,” joked Schriock in bringing up the debate over Medicare.
A House Republican budget plan, authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.,would privatize the seniors’ health program, championed by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Medicare would be replaced by a voucher for all those now under 55. Seniors would be left to negotiate their health care coverage with private insurers — not the most attractive of propositions.
Opinion polls have shown the Ryan plan vastly unpopular with the public, with even a majority of Republicans saying they like Medicare. A long-safe Republican House seat in upstate New York was recently won by a Democrat in a special election.
A Republican-passed House budget has also cut 11 percent out of Women Infants and Children: WIC was the one social program enacted while Ronald Reagan was president. It teaches nutrition to pregnant women and provides vouchers to pay for healthy foods — only healthy foods — to low-income women.
Other potentially hurtful measures? Start with a $1 billion cut to Head Start, potentially depriving 200,000 kids of pre-school, and move on to the proposed denial of all federal funding to Planned Parenthood health clinics.
Newly elected Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., describes herself as “pro-woman, just like I’m pro-family, just like I’m pro-man.” And, Tuesday night, Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., argued: “The Republican agenda is indeed pro-woman: It is pro-woman because it is pro-small business, pro-entrepreneur, pro-family and pro-economic growth.”
But such sound bites invite serious questions:
How can you be “pro-woman” and want to defund and shut down clinics that provide screening for breast and cervical cancer, and birth control counseling? How can you be “pro-family” and want to cut back nutrition assistance to young mothers and kids, and deny pre-school enrollment?
The pressure is on Republicans to conform to the right’s agenda. Five GOP presidential candidates have already signed an anti-abortion pledge sponsored by the Susan B. Anthony List, a group that raises money for anti-abortion candidates (a majority of them women). Ex-Govs. Mitt Romney and Jon Hunstman are under fire for not signing.
“So if you look on balance at the entire record, their record is anti-women, their record is a war on women and it’s a priority to them,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democrats’ new chairwoman, told a recent breakfast with Washington, D.C. reporters.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., a friend and fellow Florida congresswoman, joked to the Associated Press about Wasserman Schultz: “She’s got to fire up her base. In her heart of hearts, Debbie knows that the Republican Party is not anti-woman.”
Maybe . . . but this Washington provides a model for what happens when the base is fired up. The votes of women elected Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., in 2000, carried Gov. Chris Gregoire to victory in 2004 and 2008, and reelected Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., last year.