By Corinna Barnard
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Medicare-preservationist Kathy Hochul just won a starring role in budget affairs with her upset victory in western New York. But inside the Beltway, not a single woman is on the White House's special team of budget dealmakers.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Where are the women?
With so much on the line for women in the national budget debate a task force of the National Council of Women's Organizations this week raised heat on Vice President Joe Biden for the all-male composition of his special team of budget dealmakers.
Here's the membership of the group meeting to break the budget impasse before the August deadline for the government to agree on borrowing more money, so it can pay its bills: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., U.S. Senators John Kyl, R-Ariz., Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and Max Baucus, D-Mont., Reps. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Budget Director Jack Lew and economic adviser Gene Sperling.
The women's groups are pressing for a meeting with President Barack Obama and Biden to ask that people with expertise on women's issues be added to the White House's advisory team working on the budget negotiations.
While women may be missing from Biden's Beltway team, Kathy Hochul, a 52-year-old Democrat, just made a huge splash in the campaign forecasting over budget politics.
Hochul stole a Republican stronghold in western New York by standing up for Medicare-as-we-know it.
Her special election offers insight into what voters think about Rep. Paul Ryan's 2012 budget proposal, which includes a plan to turn Medicare into a voucher or subsidy program. Her victory suggests that Americans--whatever their party--find Ryan's radical revision of the social contract alarming at such a delicate time in the nation's economy.
Voters are contending with high unemployment, shrinking public services and foreclosures.
In April, Standard and Poor's downgraded the national debt rating to "negative;" the first time it has ever been worse than "stable."
People are on edge; looking around for what else they have to lose and what they can hang on to.
"The privatization of Medicare scares me," The New York Times quoted a Republican woman saying who had crossed party lines to cast her vote.
She speaks for many of us.
Medicare was enacted by Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson and expanded under the administrations of Republicans Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. For many Americans it's gone beyond politics. Democrat or Republican, it's our national way of taking care of our older people and planning for retirement.
That's why so many Republican voters just crossed the aisle for the candidate who vowed to protect it.
But in Congress, fewer Republican representatives seem to get this.
Democrats emboldened by Hochul's win this week forced a Senate vote on Ryan's Medicare proposal to show voters where the two parties stand.
The mostly partisan vote of 57 against and 40 in favor put a spotlight on five Republicans who crossed the aisle. Among them were three women: Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Maybe Biden could invite one of these women to his group.
With Medicare looming so large over this election it was easy to overlook the gender features of Hochul's race against Republican Jane Corwin.
For the record it was a woman-woman contest for a seat previously held by a man. So that adds a female face but hardly does much for the overall gender mix in Congress. Women's presence in the U.S. House of Representatives is still mired at less than 17 percent.
Where are the women? It's the right question for the National Council to be asking.
Read the full weekly news wrap up here.
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Corinna Barnard is editor of Women's eNews.
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