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Fighting for America's Women: The New Direction Congress's Record on Key Women's Issues

Supporting Women in the Workplace


Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. 
A top priority of the House and Senate Democratic Leadership has been the enactment of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (H.R. 2831).  This bill would be a critical step in ensuring that women are paid equal pay for equal work.  It rectifies the 2007 Supreme Court decision in Ledbetter v Goodyear that made it much harder for women and other workers to pursue pay discrimination claims.  The Democratic-led House passed the bill by a vote of 225-199 on July 31, 2007.  Unfortunately, President Bush has threatened to veto this bill and, in April 2008, Senate Republicans successfully filibustered this critical bill - by defeating the cloture motion.        

Paycheck Fairness Act.  Another top priority of the House and Senate Democratic Leadership has been the enactment of the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 1338).  This bill would be another critical step in ensuring pay equity.  It strengthens the Equal Pay Act by providing more effective remedies to women who are not being paid equal wages for doing equal work and closing the loopholes that have allowed employers to avoid responsibility for discriminatory pay.  The Democratic-led House passed the bill by a vote of 247-178 on July 31, 2008.  Unfortunately, President Bush has threatened to veto this bill.   

Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act.  In June 2008, the House passed a bill, by a vote of 278-146, that helps to make the Federal Government a leader in family-friendly policies, by providing for four weeks of paid parental leave for federal employees for the birth or adoption of a child and allowing them to use any accrued annual or sick leave for parental leave, up to eight weeks.  Unfortunately, President Bush has threatened to veto the bill.   

Child Labor Protection Act.  The New Direction Congress has enacted legislation that protects children from unsafe working conditions by significantly increasing the penalties for child labor violations where children are killed or seriously injured, and particularly where the violation is repeated or willful.

Family and Medical Leave for Families of Wounded Troops.  The New Direction Congress has also enacted legislation that extends family and medical leave to families of service members wounded in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, allowing the family to care for them without fear of losing their jobs.  


Building Economic Security


Raising the Minimum Wage. 
An issue of particular importance to women is the minimum wage.  One of the first key achievements of the New Direction Congress, in May 2007, was raising the minimum wage - the first increase in the minimum wage in a decade.  The real value of the minimum wage had plummeted to its lowest level in 51 years.  The Congress enacted a three-step increase - with the minimum wage being increased from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour over three years.  This increase is particularly important at a time when median household income has fallen.  Nearly 60 percent of those who benefit from a minimum wage increase are women - many of whom are the sole support of a family with children.

Providing Recovery Rebates.
  Another key achievement of the New Direction Congress has been, in February 2008, the enactment of a bipartisan economic stimulus package that has provided recovery rebates to 130 million American households this spring and summer and is designed to help jumpstart the economy.  The package included recovery rebates for 35 million families who work but make too little to pay income taxes, including many female-headed households - families who otherwise would not have been included in this recovery effort without the insistence of the Congressional Democratic Leadership.

Comprehensive Housing Package/Addressing Subprime Mortgage Crisis.  Women have been particularly impacted by the subprime mortgage crisis, which has already led to more than one million families losing their homes in foreclosure.   On the Bush Administration's watch, unregulated mortgage originators were given financial incentives to sell risky, unaffordable subprime mortgages to vulnerable borrowers.  Evidence suggests that those lenders targeted minority, elderly and female borrowers.  During the subprime mortgage boom - despite having higher credit scores on average - female homebuyers were 32 percent more likely than males to receive a high-cost subprime mortgage loan.  The New Direction Congress has enacted the most sweeping housing bill in a generation that provides mortgage financing assistance which will prevent at least 400,000 families from losing their homes through foreclosure, expands affordable mortgage loan opportunities, creates an affordable housing trust fund, and makes homeownership possible for more first-time buyers with a refundable tax credit of up to $7,500.

Extended Unemployment Benefits.  Women are suffering in this economy.  There are currently 4.2 million unemployed women, many of whom are the heads of household - 1.4 million more than when President Bush was inaugurated.  Despite initial opposition from the Bush Administration, the New Direction Congress in June successfully enacted an Extended Unemployment Benefits bill.  This bill provides up to 13 weeks of extended unemployment benefits in every state to workers who have exhausted the 26 weeks of regular unemployment benefits.   

Improving Women's and Children's Health


Protecting Medicare from President Bush's Proposed Drastic Cuts.
  Medicare is vital to women - with  25 million American women, who are over age 65 and/or disabled, depending on Medicare for their health care coverage.  As women age, the coverage provided by Medicare becomes more and more critical to their well-being.  And yet, both in 2007 and 2008, President Bush's budget proposed drastic Medicare cuts - proposing cuts of $252 billion over 10 years in 2007 and cuts of $556 billion over 10 years in 2008.  As the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare pointed out, “Cuts of this magnitude will undermine traditional Medicare and negatively impact the health outcomes of beneficiaries by limiting their access to care.”  These proposed cuts would have had a particularly damaging impact on the access to quality health care for the 25 million women relying on Medicare.  Fortunately, both in 2007 and 2008, the New Direction Congress has blocked these cuts from being enacted.  

Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act.  In July 2008, the New Direction Congress enacted over the President's veto a key bill that ensures seniors have access to the doctors they know and trust by preventing a 10% payment cut for physicians in Medicare, enhances Medicare prevention and mental health benefits, improves and extends programs for low-income Medicare beneficiaries, and improves access to care for rural seniors.

Medicare Drug Price Negotiation.  In January 2007, the House passed a bill that would have required the Department of Health and Human Services to negotiate with drug companies for lower drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries - which would have resulted in enormous savings for seniors.  Unfortunately, in April 2007, Senate Republicans successfully filibustered this critical bill - by defeating the cloture motion.

Genetic Information Nondiscrimination.  In May 2008, the New Direction Congress enacted a key bill which prohibits health insurance companies and employers from discriminating against people on the basis of genetic test results; for example, under this legislation, a woman can't be discriminated against by insurers or employers because she carries a gene indicating a high risk for breast cancer.

Life-Saving Stem Cell Research.  Both the House and Senate passed and sent to the President landmark legislation that promoted life-saving embryonic stem cell research by increasing the number of stem cell lines that are eligible to be used in federally-funded research.  Stem cell research holds the promise to cure or prevent many diseases, including those for which women are at greater risk.  Unfortunately for America's women and all Americans, on June 20, 2007, President Bush vetoed this vital bill.  
 
Health Care Coverage for 10 Million Children.  Over the last two years, the New Direction Congress has twice passed legislation that would have provided health care coverage for 10 million American children - providing coverage for 6 million children currently covered by the State Children's Health Insurance Program and extending coverage to 4 million uninsured children.  Unfortunately, President Bush vetoed this critical legislation both times.

Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection.  In April 2007, the New Direction Congress enacted a key bill that extends for five years and improves a program that provides free and low-cost breast and cervical cancer screenings to low-income, minority, and uninsured women.

Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act.  The House Energy and Commerce Committee has recently reported a critical bill that requires health insurers to cover minimum lengths of stay for patients undergoing procedures to treat and diagnose breast cancer.  

HEART for Women Act.  The House Energy and Commerce Committee has also recently reported another critical bill that authorizes grants to educate doctors about the unique aspects of preventing, diagnosing and treating women with heart disease; and also requires that health information already being reported to the Food and Drug Administration be stratified by sex, race and ethnicity.

Women's Retirement Security


Protecting Social Security from Privatization.
  Social Security is particularly important for America's women, as women on average live longer than men.  Women represent 58 percent of all Social Security beneficiaries age 62 and older and 71 percent of all beneficiaries age 85 and older.  In 2005, President Bush unveiled his plan to privatize Social Security, calling for the creation of private accounts - a plan that would be devastating for American women enrolled in Social Security.  The President's plan would undermine retirement security by slashing guaranteed benefits by more than 40 percent - with the proposed risky private accounts failing to make up for this loss in benefits.  The proposal would also drain trillions from the Social Security Trust Fund.  Fortunately, Democrats in Congress successfully blocked the President's plan in 2005.  However, the President hasn't given up; the privatization plan was in his FY 2008 and his FY 2009 budget requests.

Improving Education for Women and Children


Head Start Improvement. 
  Quality education for their children is a critical concern of America's women.  The New Direction Congress has enacted key legislation to expand and improve the successful Head Start early childhood education program, which research has shown works in raising children's achievement.  The bill improves classroom and teacher quality, raising the qualifications of teachers and increasing funding for teacher and staff salaries.  It also updates the Head Start program by using the latest and best science on early childhood brain development to strengthen the focus on school readiness.

College Cost Reduction and Access.  One of the key achievements of the New Direction Congress has been enactment of the largest college aid expansion since the 1944 GI Bill, including increasing the maximum Pell Grant by $1,090 - to $5,400 - by 2012, cutting interest rates on need-based student loans in half over four years, and providing loan repayment for those who enter public service careers.

Summit on America's Children.  House Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, also held a National Summit on America's Children in May 2007, which focused on informing and modernizing public policy regarding young children, based on the latest research into early childhood brain development.

Ensuring Child Safety


Consumer Product Safety/Toy Safety. 
In August 2008, the New Direction Congress enacted a landmark Consumer Product Safety/Toy Safety bill that takes several steps to make children and all Americans safer.  The bill essentially eliminates lead from toys and children's products; prohibits the use of dangerous phthalates in children's toys and child care products; requires mandatory third-party testing of toys; strengthens protections against the import of dangerous toys and other children's products from overseas; and provides the Consumer Product Safety Commission with significantly greater resources and personnel.

Closing A Loophole Regarding Child Pornography Prosecution.  The House has passed H.R. 4120, Effective Child Pornography Prosecution Act, which closes a jurisdictional loophole in order to ensure more effective prosecution of child pornography cases.

Enhancing Prosecution of Child Pornography.  The House has also passed H.R. 4136, Enhancing the Effective Prosecution of Child Pornography Act, which allows federal money laundering laws to be applied in some cases involving the production of child pornography.

Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces.  In addition, the House has also passed H.R. 3845, PROTECT Our Children Act, which authorizes a significant funding boost for more than 50 Justice Department-funded Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces across the country.

 


Women and The Bush Economy

Many American women have suffered under the Bush economy - particularly the millions of women struggling to raise their children in female-headed households.   Since President Bush has come into office, the female unemployment rate is up, the number of uninsured women is up, the median household income of female-headed families is down, and the number of female-headed families living in poverty is up.  As family expenses continue to rise, many women and their families are struggling to make ends meet. 

After seven and a half years of the Bush economy, now more than ever we need a new direction in economic policy.  The Democratic-led Congress is fighting to begin to provide this New Direction - aimed at restoring broad-based growth, reducing the high costs of energy, college and health care, improving retirement security, and increasing prosperity for all Americans.

Median Household Income of Female-Headed Families Has Fallen by $1,437 Under President Bush.  Women have suffered particularly in the Bush economy, including women in female-headed families.  Indeed, between 2000 and 2007, female-headed families have seen their median household income fall by $1,437.  At the same time that their median income has fallen, their expenses have grown.  Since 2000, the average price of gasoline has increased 145 percent, the average family health insurance premium has jumped 41 percent to $11,765, and the average cost of child care for two children has grown to $1,041 per month.

Number of Unemployed Women Has Grown by 1.4 Million under President Bush.  Female unemployment has risen from 4.1 percent when President Bush was inaugurated to 5.8 percent today and there are now 4.2 million unemployed women - 1.4 million more than in January 2001.  Women's job losses hurt families:  nearly three-quarters of all children are raised in families without a stay-at-home parent, and in married-couple families working wives bring home over a third of their family's total income.

Share of Female-Headed Households Living in Poverty Has Increased from 33% to 37% Under President Bush.  Nationwide, 3.6 million female-headed families (37 percent) were living in poverty in 2007, up from 33 percent in 2000.  More than two-fifths (43.0 percent) of children living in female-headed families were living below the poverty line, three and a half times the total national poverty rate of 12.5 percent.  Furthermore, there are 1.2 million more poor children in female-headed households than there were in 2000.

Number of Uninsured Women Has Grown by 2.8 Million Under President Bush.  In 2007, there were 16.7 million women (aged 18 to 64) who had no health insurance - or 17.6 percent - which is 2.8 million more than in 2000.   Across the country, the number of all Americans without health insurance totals 45.7 million in 2007 - which is 7.2 million more than in 2000.   

Female Homeowners Are Suffering Under Subprime Mortgage Crisis. 
On the Bush Administration's watch, unregulated mortgage originators were given financial incentives to sell risky, unaffordable subprime mortgages to vulnerable borrowers.  Evidence suggests that those lenders targeted minority, elderly and female borrowers.  During the subprime boom - despite having higher credit scores on average - female homebuyers were 32 percent more likely than males to receive a high-cost subprime mortgage loan.   The Joint Economic Committee estimates the number of subprime foreclosures will total 2 million by the end of 2009; a disproportionate share will likely be women homeowners.