By Deborah Mesce
Monday, August 14, 2000
Presidential candidate Al Gore has a solid, pro-choice record from his Senate days and he has taken progressive stands on many women's issues, but what role he played in Clinton administration decisions is not always clear.
In an effort to appeal to women voters, Democratic candidate Al Gore is showcasing his work on a variety of issues from pay equity to health care, from child care to the right to choose abortion.
Gore's campaign website catalogues his record in the Senate and the ways in which he has worked on behalf of women as vice president, though what role he played in Clinton administration decisions is not always clear.
Here is a summary of Gore's views on some of the issues.
In the workplace: On the website, workplace issues earn top billing on a page entitled "Fighting for Women," and pay equity is first among them. Gore wants Congress to pass legislation that would strengthen laws prohibiting wage discrimination, including allowing women to seek compensatory and punitive damages from employers who violate the law.
He also supports expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act to give workers more options. As a senator he co-sponsored early versions of the law, which gives employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave in order to care for an infant or sick relative.
Gore wants to raise the minimum wage, currently $5.15 per hour, by $1 over the next two years. That would add about $2,000 to the annual earnings of full-time, minimum wage employees who now make only about $10,700. The House and Senate have passed differing bills that tie a $1 an hour minimum-wage increase to various tax cuts, and it's uncertain whether a conference committee will agree on a bill before Congress winds up the year. About 60 percent of the 10 million workers earning the minimum wage are women.
Health care and Medicare: Gore proposes a Patients' Bill of Rights that would give HMO patients and their doctors more control over medical decisions and allow women to choose their obstetrician-gynecologist as their primary care physician. He also says Medicare should be expanded to pay half of the cost of prescription drugs up to $5,000 with no deductible.
Gore says his health care plan recognizes that 60 percent of Medicare beneficiaries are women, whose incomes are an average 40 percent lower than men's. "Many health care challenges affect women disproportionately--they have higher prescription drug costs and health care costs than men, they tend to live longer and they have lower incomes," according to a Gore policy paper.
Gore wants to expand the Children's Health Insurance Program, which now lets states cover children in families earning up to 200 percent of the poverty level, or $28,300 for a family of three (the poverty level for family of three is $14,150). Gore wants to push the limit to 250 percent of the poverty level in order to cover 1 million more children. He also would allow children over that limit and uninsured parents at income levels set by the states to buy into the program.
A recent study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said that 7 million of the 11 million children who are uninsured qualify for coverage under the Children's Health Insurance Program, commonly known as CHIP, or the federal health insurance program for the poor, Medicaid, but their parents are unaware that they are eligible. That still leaves 4 million uninsured children whose parents earn too much to qualify for either program.
Reproductive rights: Gore stands behind a solid pro-choice record, bolstered by his selection of Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut as his running mate. The National Abortion and Reproduction Rights Action League endorsed the ticket, saying: "Al Gore has pledged to protect, preserve and defend the right to choose and to appoint judges who embrace similar values. Senator Lieberman has been a staunch defender of choice throughout his career."
In the Senate, Gore co-sponsored the Freedom of Choice Act, which sought to write the Roe v. Wade decision into federal law in order to prevent states from limiting women's rights under the 1973 Supreme Court ruling. He also opposed requiring parental consent for minors who want abortions. However, when Gore was in the House, he voted against Medicaid-funded abortions, and in 1984 and 1987, he wrote to constituents that abortion was "arguably the taking of a human life." He says that he would not use that phrase today and that he would support legislation to expand Medicaid funding for abortions.
Domestic Violence: Gore supported the Violence Against Women Prevention Act that strengthened penalties for domestic abuse and increased funding for battered women's shelters and other programs to fight violence against women. In the Senate, he co-sponsored an earlier version of the law in 1991.
Gun control: Gore also would ban cheap handguns, limit gun sales to one per month and require a three-day waiting period for purchases. As vice president, Gore cast the tie-breaking vote to pass Senate legislation ending the exemption for gun shows from the background checks required by the Brady Law.
Welfare: Gore's proposals to help absent fathers find jobs and support their children rankled some women's groups last fall. They were concerned that grants for programs for non-custodial fathers to promote responsible fatherhood would go to right-wing men's-rights groups at the expense of women and children. In response, Gore amended his plan to require organizations that receive the grant money to include domestic-violence prevention in their programs.
Child care: Gore also supports a refundable income tax credit that would help parents cover up to half of their child care expenses, and he wants to expand government-subsidized child care for low-income children.
Social Security: Gore proposes to devote budget surpluses to shoring up Social Security and reducing the federal debt. But he wants to give credit toward Social Security for up to five years spent rearing children. His campaign says that credit for child rearing would benefit as many as 8 million people, most of them women.
Gay rights: He supports expanding the definition of hate crimes to include those based on sexual orientation and eliminating the ban on gays in the military. He also supports legal protections for domestic partnerships, but opposes giving them status of "marriage" in the traditional, religious sense.
Affirmative action: Gore has opposed state and local efforts to end affirmative action, and the Clinton administration touts its record of having appointed more minorities to Cabinet positions, judgeships and other high-level posts than ever before in the country's history.
Deborah Mesce is a free-lance writer and former Washington correspondent for The Associated Press.