New Members of Congress Define Their Agendas

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Denise Majette

WASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)–When the 108th Congress convened, it welcomed seven new women representatives and two new female senators. Their viewpoints represent the broad spectrum of American political opinion, bucking the conventional wisdom that suggests a unified “women’s perspective” on the issues.

Two of the seven new House members are Democrats. Three are supported by various abortion rights groups. Both new senators are Republican; one is pro-choice, the other is not.

New Democratic members of the House of Representatives include Linda Sanchez of California and Denise Majette of Georgia. Republican members are Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee; Ginny Brown-Waite and Katherine Harris of Florida; Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado; and Candice Miller of Michigan. Two Republican senators round out the group: Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

During their first few weeks in office, Women’s Enews contacted these first-year legislators and asked them for a response to the following questions:

What do you think is the most pressing issue facing American women today?

How do you plan to respond to this issue during your term of office?

Here are their responses:

Two New Democratic House Members

Rep. Linda Sanchez expressed concern about the future of reproductive choice.

“With the House, Senate and White House all in Republican hands, I am very concerned about women’s reproductive health and a woman’s right to choose. Over time, we have seen a subtle but pernicious erosion of Roe v. Wade.

“To what extent I can have an impact–as a freshmen member of the minority party–I’m not sure, but I know that there is very little I can do alone. We need the full support of the women of America. They need to speak up loudly and often on this issue.”

Sanchez ticked off a laundry list of additional issues she worries about.

“Equal pay for equal work. Child care. Access to quality and affordable health care. Retirement–Since women live longer than men, their pension is often not a very secure thing because they are penalized for leaving and re-entering the workforce. Protection of Title IX, which encourages young women to participate in college sports.

“And in Congress, right off the bat is this economic stimulus package. I am very concerned about how it will impact women. There is a lot of work to do.”

Rep. Denise Majette, who is pro-choice, defeated a pro-choice Republican to win her district after a bruising primary against incumbent Cynthia McKinney. She told Women’s Enews she plans to focus on economic development and empowerment.

“I represent a congressional district that has a lot of women- and minority-owned small businesses. They are literally the backbone of our economy, just as they are throughout the nation. So, one of the areas that I will focus on in Congress is providing women and minorities access to business development opportunities. I also want to make sure that existing small businesses get the support they need to enhance future growth and to continue investing in their communities.”

Five New Republican House Members

Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, who was supported by the Republican Pro-Choice Coalition, said through her press secretary that she considers herself to be a legislator first and a woman second.

Florida’s other new female lawmaker is Rep. Katherine Harris, who burst onto the national radar screen after her role in the controversy surrounding the re-count of votes in the 2000 presidential election. She said:

“Women today face a variety of challenges but no issue is more pressing than access to quality, affordable health care and prescription drugs. We have a moral obligation to every American to find a bipartisan solution to the problems that plague our nation’s health care delivery system. I will do all that I can to contribute to that effort.”

According to Rep. Marsha Blackburn, high taxes are the most pressing concern for American women today.

“Right now, too many families and single mothers struggle to make ends meet and that’s before the government takes its bite. If Congress can reform the nation’s antiquated tax code, allowing women and their families to keep more of their hard-earned dollars, we can improve the lives of millions of Americans.”

Rep. Candice Miller responded with dual concerns.

“The most pressing issues facing American women today are the same as those facing all Americans: ensuring the security of our homeland and strengthening our economy.

“With so many challenges facing our nation–the threat of war with Iraq, the ongoing war on terror and homeland security–the need for strong national defense has never been greater. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I will fight to ensure that we maintain the strongest possible national defense.

“I fully support President Bush’s economic plan. It reduces taxes for every American who pays taxes. Families will see reductions in marginal rates and increases in the child tax credit.”

Colorado’s Rep. Marilyn Musgrave shares the view that economic issues are key, and said she wants to reduce taxes so that women can keep more of their income.

“I firmly believe that women can choose how to spend their family money better than faceless government bureaucrats can. Specifically, I support the immediate and permanent elimination of the marriage penalty tax. In addition, I will support an immediate raise in the per-child tax credit from $600 per year to $1,000, rather than the 2010 increase as previously passed by Congress.”

Two New Members of the Senate, Both Republican

On the Senate side, Elizabeth Dole sent a statement from her campaign, which, according to press secretary Mary Brown Brewer, also reflects Dole’s current thoughts. Among the issues identified by then-candidate Dole were affordable child care and encouragingLisa Murkowskientrepreneurship for women. She also noted that she wants to work toward legislation that will curb domestic violence and will ensure security in retirement.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, appointed to fill the remaining two years of her father’s term after he was elected governor, comes with a reputation as an independent thinker. As a member of Alaska’s House of Representatives, she pushed for increases in taxes on alcohol and voted against curbs on state funding for abortion. She may face a challenge from the conservative wing of her party when she runs on her own. Murkowski said:

“The most pressing issue for all Americans, not just women, is improving our economy so that all Americans have good-paying jobs so families have the resources to provide the best education, health care and emotional support possible for their children.

“We need an energy policy that stresses greater domestic production of oil and natural gas to promote national security. That way we can make sure that we are not sending our sons and husbands in the military into harm’s way simply to protect our access to the energy sources that we need.”

The women enter Congress at a critical time for the country on many fronts. All seem excited by their opportunity to make an impact; all seem eager to get to work.

Ann Moline is a freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va.

For more information:

Center for American Women and Politics:
http://www.cawp.rutgers.edu/

D.C.’s Political Report, political links:
http://www.dcpoliticalreport.com/PolLink.htm

Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR):
http://www.iwpr.org/


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