By Alison Bowen
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Women in both chambers of Congress issued political checklists and set their agendas during the Democratic convention. Equal pay is a top concern for female lawmakers but they also promoted party issues with an eye to the election.
DENVER (WOMENSENEWS)--In the hours before Sen. Hillary Clinton addressed the delegates at the Democratic National Convention Tuesday night, 10 female senators joined together to unveil their own agenda before the Democratic delegates. Slightly more than than half the delegates are female.
Topping the list is narrowing the gender wage gap, but other women's issues--such as gender violence and reproductive rights--were absent from the checklist proposal, dominated by staples of the Democratic Party agenda.
As a recording of Aretha Franklin's "Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves" blared over the convention loud speakers, the coalition of Democratic senators rolled out their "Checklist for Change," their political agenda for the 111th Congress that will convene in January with new members elected in the November election.
Eight women in the House of Representatives, introduced by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, presented their own checklist Wednesday before the convention delegates. Two highlighted issues--making college more affordable and alleviating the housing mortgage crisis--were different from the senators' version. But other issues mirrored the senators' list including equal pay, improving national security, fostering energy independence and creating affordable health care.
Throughout the convention in Denver this week, female lawmakers have sought out the spotlight, drawing attention to their issues at women-themed events partly intended to raise their profile as an influential group in Washington politics.
That has included a show of support for traditional Democratic Party issues and an emphasis on the presidential election.
Unveiling their checklist, the House representatives read aloud letters from women worrying about feeding their children or paying mortgages and medical bills. Each said Arizona Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, would represent "more of the same."
"Everything is on the line for women in this election," California Rep. Lois Capps said.
"You would think in 2008 that would be a no-brainer," Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow said about the equal pay issue Tuesday morning at a breakfast rally for the Democratic Women's Caucus, a group of Democratic women in Congress that works together on common issues.
Equal pay for equal work is still not a reality, Stabenow said, and criticized the Supreme Court for making it tougher for women to file pay discrimination lawsuits.
At issue was the case of Lilly Ledbetter, a former employee at a Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company plant in Alabama who sued for pay discrimination. Led by Chief Justice John Roberts, the high court ruled against Ledbetter in 2007 because she didn't file her complaint within six-months after the discrimination occurred--even though Ledbetter would have no way of knowing at that time that she was being paid less than her male co-workers. .
Ledbetter has since become an advocate for equal pay and addressed the convention in a prime-time speech Tuesday nigh, because, she said, although she will never be able to recover damages from her former employer.
"We can't afford more of the same votes that deny women their equal rights," she said at the convention.
The checklist is a product of Democratic Women for Change, the senators' group headed by Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat who is the most senior woman in the Senate. All Democratic female senators have endorsed the checklist.
"Women are pretty good at lists and writing things down and checking them off and getting things done," Stabenow said.
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