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Legislative Update
Needed: A Congress Willing to Tackle Hard Issues

By Pat Reuss, Senior Policy Analyst

A year after the Democrats took over leadership of both the House and the Senate, there has been little progress on NOW's feminist/progressive agenda, primarily because of repeated filibusters by the Republican minority in the Senate. Even the Fair Pay Restoration Act, which had every single Democratic senator, didn't draw enough Republican votes to prevent a filibuster. While most harmful legislation has been silenced or stalled, both the House and the Senate lack the votes and the will to tackle many of the hard issues.

There is no plan to swiftly withdraw troops from Iraq, no law to expand protection against hate crimes, no restoration of reproductive justice or shelving of bogus abstinence-only and father's rights programs, no effective rebuilding plan for the Katrina-wracked Gulf States or our housing and mortgage crisis, and no resolution around the rising cost of health care and the inability of states to meet the demands of the increasing numbers of families needing public assistance.

At this writing, Congress is considering a $612.5 billion authorization for the Department of Defense, topping that off with a "war supplemental" bill that adds up to an additional $170 billion in 2009 funds. What happened to fully funding the Head Start and food stamps and family planning at home and abroad? Why aren't companies that profit from the war at least being asked to guarantee equal pay for their workers? Why isn't emergency contraception available to our women in combat or to rape victims treated at Catholic hospitals?

Since January of this year, NOW has been pushing bills to restore affordable birth control for students and low-income women who previously were able to purchase low- priced contraceptives at their student health centers and public clinics. They lost low price birth control when the President Bush signed the Deficit Reduction Act in early 2006, but the current Congress doesn't have the votes to restore this important low-cost drug pricing.

Many efforts have been made in the last seven years to repeal the Global Gag rule and fund international family planning because it is good health care and a key to women's economic survival, which should be a top priority for this Congress. The Hyde Amendment should be repealed, and providing emergency contraception to women in the military seems only right, especially for women serving or posted overseas and in combat.

NOW is working on promoting real immigration reform with a new Congress next year, demanding that legal immigrant children and pregnant immigrants be covered by the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and initiating a project to investigate the impact of raids and detention centers on immigrant women and their families. We will also be working with Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) on legislation that addresses disparities in health care and promotes healthcare for minority and immigrant families. NOW is proud to have played a central role in the formation of the National Coalition for Immigrant Women’s Rights, and as of this writing more than 30 groups are members. Information about the coalition and how to join is available online.

In the area of work and family, NOW is part of a large and diverse coalition to pass the Fair Pay Restoration Act after last year's Supreme Court ruling set back efforts to end wage discrimination (see page 2). Paid sick leave, known as the Healthy Families Act, and paid family and medical leave are top priorities, but have little chance of getting anywhere, especially when this administration continues efforts to water down the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), proposing regulations that make it harder for workers to use FMLA and easier for employers to deny leave. NOW also urged activists to write to Congress urging diversity in media ownership, since biased media continue to damage our legislative efforts.

By all reports, domestic and sexual violence against girls and women is not decreasing. Only the funding for the programs to address this violence is seeing a reduction. NOW supports the continuing effort to get Congress to fully fund VAWA programs and services. NOW applauds Sen. Joe Biden's (D-Del.) efforts to address international violence and provide legal services to violence survivors, but we need a national campaign to stop violence. NOW also has been working on bills to address violence against women in the military and to prevent sex trafficking and forced child marriages.

But none of these important policy proposals, including the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and the ratification of CEDAW, will happen unless there is a president and a filibuster-proof Congress willing to take up their cause.

National NOW Times >> Spring 2008  >> Article

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