Washington Outlook/Congress/White House

Battles Loom on Women's Rights, Health, Budget

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spring brings an overflow of political battles that affect women. Statehouse bills attack choice, Medicare and Medicaid could be picked apart in agency budget hearings and federal spending to curb domestic violence faces unusual opposition.

(WOMENSENEWS)-- The GOP's late-winter attack on contraception coverage ran aground in the Senate, but women still have plenty at stake this spring in Congress and in states across the country.

Next week opponents of health reform will argue against its constitutionality before the Supreme Court, putting at risk a law that the Department of Health and Human Services says already has expanded health insurance to more than a million young adult women and will reach 13 million more by 2016.

Two weeks ago, meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee began a series of hearings to examine President Barack Obama's budget requests for federal agencies.

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Over the next month, heads of agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services will appear before appropriations subcommittees to discuss how the 2013 budget will affect their agency's funding for implementation of Medicare, Medicaid and other programs important to women.

House Republicans also introduced a 2013 budget Tuesday that would reshape Medicare into a system of private insurance plans, shrink programs for the poor and turn them over to state governments, The New York Times reported March 21.

Emily Martin, vice president of the Washington-based National Women's Law Center, predicted that Congressional battles over women's rights will emerge this spring during Republican attempts to derail Obama's $3.8 trillion budget proposal.

"Women have trailed behind men in the economic recovery, so it is important that women don't get left behind when funds for job creation are approved," Martin said. "Heavy losses in the public sector, such as education, have been the major cause of the slow recovery for women, so non-traditional jobs will become increasingly important."

The National Women's Law Center, a nonprofit law firm that uses the courts to challenge gender bias and educates the public about women's rights, analyzed job gains in February and found that women gained 86,000 jobs, or 38 percent of the nearly 2.2 million net jobs added since the start of the recession in June 2009.

"Not much legislation gets passed in a presidential election year because the parties concentrate on their differences in order to attract voters," Martin said in a phone interview. "But appropriations for everything from job creation to child care to funding the implementation of the Affordable Care Act will have a profound impact on women and their families, so women must make sure that important programs aren't eliminated or reduced."

The National Women's Law Center analyzed the proposed Obama budget and found that it generally protected funding for programs important to women and families. However, there were some worrisome provisions, such as the elimination of apprenticing and grant programs to help women train for male-dominated occupations.

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