WASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)–The controversial child psychologist and conservative newspaper columnist Wade F. Horn on Thursday sailed through a 10-minute, pro-forma Senate confirmation hearing on his nomination to a top government policy job involving women, families and welfare.
Women’s advocates and welfare rights organizations generally oppose Horn because of his strong view that government should promote marriage, to the point that women on welfare should marry rather than depend on government aid. No one spoke in opposition, however.
At the hearing, Horn, co-founder and president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, confirmed reports that he has reversed his earlier position that needy married couples be given priority in terms of material and financial benefits and programs–over needy but unmarried people.
Focusing in this position, Democrat Sen. John D. Rockefeller, West Virginia, said that Horn should be given a chance to explain his change of position on the issue.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that it was neither a viable or helpful recommendation,” Horn said in a prepared statement.
Horn has been nominated to be assistant secretary of family support in the Health and Human Services Administration, a position in which he would play a major role in issues involving family policy, Head Start, child support and reauthorization in 2002 of the 1996 welfare law.
Horn spoke for 10 minutes and was not questioned by members of the Senate finance committee, which has jurisdiction over assistant secretary-level nominations. Four minor nominees to administration posts were also heard in the hour-long hearing. Only Democratic Sen. Robert Torricelli, New Jersey, and Senator Rockefeller were present. Republican Senator Charles Grassley, Iowa, had been present but left the room before Horn spoke.
Horn was introduced by Rockefeller who invited him to discuss his views. The audience was mute.
The committee did not vote and it was not known when the full Senate would vote on the nomination.
Horn A Long-Time Supporter of Marriage For Low-Income People
Horn is a long-time supporter of measures to encourage marriage for low-income couples, especially those on welfare. In 1997 he stated that married couples should be given priority over single parents or cohabiting couples for welfare benefits. That set off a firestorm of protest from women’s organizations and welfare rights groups.
Also, in a paper published by the Hudson Institute the same year, Horn advocated putting married couples ahead of unmarried parents and couples when it came to other government benefits such as Head Start, education aid, housing and job training. “If we want to revitalize marriage in low-income neighborhoods, we will have to reverse the current preference for single-parent households and favor married couples,” he wrote.
The mission of the National Fatherhood Initiative, a Gaithersburg, Md.-based organization, is to “stimulate a society-wide movement to confront the growing problem of father absence and to improve the well-being of children by increasing the number of children growing up with involved, committed, and responsible fathers in their lives.”
Horn’s nomination has been controversial from the start, with women’s organizations complaining about his emphasis on promoting marriage through government policy and financial incentives within the welfare system. They have also warned that some of Horn’s policies could help keep women trapped in abusive marriages because leaving would be economically infeasible.
But in a recent interview, Horn’s spokesman, Jeff Rosenberg, said that Horn has changed his mind on the issue. Horn’s statements during the hearing confirm his about-face.
Horn Calls for ‘Equal Regard’ Marriages, Would Fight Teen Pregnancy
Horn told the hearing that if confirmed he would work to help couples develop “healthy, mutually satisfying, equal regard” marriages, and to address high rates of teen-age pregnancy, as well as drug and alcohol abuse.
He said he has moved to a new position of encouraging marriage “at the front end” by offering low income couples marriage counseling and training in relationship skills.
Horn said that he had “come to a very different conclusion than I held five years ago” in regard to putting married couples ahead of single parents for welfare benefits. Horn said that the suggestion was one of many he had made in order to start a discussion about how states could promote marriage, but that he had disavowed it after listening to critics. He said he asked that it be removed when the Hudson Institute recently reissued his 1997 paper.
Some women’s advocates expressed skepticism about Horn’s new position. For example, Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, said last week that she worries Horn’s stated change of heart was due to his confirmation hearing.
Others who oppose Horn’s nomination are concerned that he might have a change of heart on one aspect of how government benefits should be distributed, but still use his position in other ways to tilt his agency’s practices toward financially rewarding two-parent households.
Moreover, leaders of women’s organizations say that Horn’s weekly “Fatherly Advice” columns, published in the Washington Times and other publications, indicate that he holds many positions antithetical to women’s equality.
Women’s Advocates Say Horn Promotes Religious, Gender-Based Stereotypes
Shortly after Horn was nominated, NOW Legal Defense and Education president Kathy Rodgers said that her organization opposes Horn’s nomination because of his lack of support for no-fault divorce and advocacy of mandatory pre-divorce counseling and reconciliation efforts. Women’s Enews is a project of NOW Legal Defense.
Rodgers also stated that Horn’s writings promote religious gender-based stereotypes and make unacceptable generalizations about single mothers. In a 1999 column, Horn asserted that girls raised by single mothers are more likely to be sexually active at younger ages and to grow up to be promiscuous than those reared by married mothers.
In a column published earlier this year, Horn also opposed a woman’s right to an abortion, writing “except in cases of rape and incest, both the man and the woman must take responsibility for any human life that results from their moment of passion.”
Rodgers said these types of statements indicate that Horn’s beliefs might interfere with his ability to run the vast agency fairly.
“If the President’s true intention is to support all of America’s families and children, rather than judging and penalizing some, he should appoint an individual who will express the pro-family views that Mr. Bush espoused when he was running for President,” Rodgers said.
There did not appear to be any vocal opponents of Horn’s nomination in the audience at the hearing, though women’s groups have been asking those who have concerns about his record to contact their Senators and ask them to vote against the nomination.
In addition to Horn, the committee heard from William Henry Lash, nominated to be an assistant secretary of commerce; Allen Frederick Johnson, nominated to be chief agricultural negotiator; Brian Carlton Roseboro, an assistant secretary of the treasury, and Kevin Keane, an assistant secretary of Health and Human Services.
Sarah Stewart Taylor is a free-lance writer in Washington.
For more information, visit:
NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund: http://www.nowldef.org
The Feminist Majority: http://www.feminist.org
National Fatherhood Initiative: http://www.fatherhood.org
To read another Women’s Enews article about Wade Horn and the fatherhood movement:
“Fatherhood Movement Has Range of Ideology, Agenda:”