Revisiting Bill Clinton’s sex scandal won’t erase the reality of the Republican party’s “war on women,” or its consequences for women, families and communities across the country.
In fact, it doesn’t make Republicans look much better. After all, it’s a reminder of the number of Republicans who blasted Clinton while hiding adulterous affairs of their own. The number of Republican sex scandals dwarfs those of the Democrats, and might expose the myth that Republicans value sexual morality more than Democrats. Neither party has cornered the market on sexual morality or lecherousness.
(Sen. Paul also accused the media of giving Clinton a “pass,” but conveniently forgot that Republicans with adulterous histories have been “rehabbed” and welcomed back into the conservative fold. Mark Sandford’s trip down the “Appalachian Trail,” cost him his governorship, his marriage, and led to 37 ethics charges. Yet, Republican voters sent Sanford to Washington last year, to represent South Carolina’s first congressional district. Meanwhile, Sen. David Vitter’s spot on the D.C. Madam’s client list, and alleged visits to a New Orleans brothel, did’t cost him his Senate seat — and may not stop him from becoming the next governor of Louisiana.)
Adultery is beside the point. The sexual peccadilloes of one man, or a hundred, do not equal the policies of an entire political party. In fact, the latter are far more damaging.
The War on Women’s Reproductive Freedom And Health
The “war on women” is a convenient wrapper for the battle over legal abortion and contraception. Forty-one years after the Supreme Court’s decision, seven in 10 Americans think that Roe v. Wade should stand. President Obama and the Democrats have reaffirmed their commitment to women’s reproductive freedom.
Republicans have hardened their opposition to legal abortion, added contraception, and seem to prefer shutting women out of the policy-making process. Just this month, the all-male House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice voted to send H.R. 7, the “No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act,” to the House Judiciary Committee. The bill would not only make permanent the “Hyde Amendment” prohibiting the spending of federal dollars on abortion services, but also surpass it by potentially prohibiting anyone who qualifies for a tax credit for health insurance from purchasing a plan that covers abortion.
The subcommittee is led by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who co-sponsored the 20-week abortion ban passed by the House last year, and led efforts to restrict access to abortion for low-income women in Washington, D.C. Members include Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-Texas), who declared, “There’s no war on women,” during the subcommittee hearing on H.R. 7.
A week later, H.R. 7 became the first bill marked up in the House Judiciary Committee. The 40-member committee includes just five women, all of whom are Democrats.
The Judiciary Committee hearing was almost entirely dominated by men. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) was denied a chance to speak, even though the bill contains language specifically targeting her constituents. Holmes joined other women Democrats in a hallway protest outside the hearing. The committee sent the bill to the to the House floor, where it will almost certainly pass. From there, it will go to the Senate, where it will almost certainly fail.
The lack of women in the hearing led House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to tweet an image that echoed the protest signs outside the hearing.
— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) January 13, 2014
Photos from the hearing are reminiscent of the all-male panel at the 2012 House Oversight Committee hearing on the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. (Democrats were only allowed one witness, and when chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) rejected Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke as a witness, women Democrats walked out of the hearing.)
It also brings to mind the famous photo of President George W. Bush signing the Partial Birth Abortion Bill, surrounded by an admiring group of all-male (and all-white) ranking Republicans.
Last year, 22 states passed new abortion restrictions. According to data analyzed by Mother Jones magazine, of the 330 state legislators to propose or sponsor such bills, 257 — more than 75 percent — were male. The overwhelming majority — 94 percent — were Republicans; only 20 were Democrats. In the states, the restriction of women’s reproductive freedom has been an almost exclusively a white, male, Republican affair.
When Republican Ohio governor John Kasich signed stringent abortion restrictions into law, the “optics” were eerily similar to the 2003 Bush photo.
Once again, a picture is worth a thousand words.
The Republican attack on women’s health issues isn’t limited to abortion and contraception. In 2011, the new House Republican majority passed bills (stopped by the Democratic majority in the Senate) to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood and Title X, which provides millions of women with birth control, and vital screenings for breast and cervical cancer.
Republican-controlled states have also passed laws eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood, denying the organization public funding for non-abortion services like cancer screening and family planning, which it offers to low-income women.
In 2012, the Democrat-led Senate passed legislation renewing the Violence Against Women Act, which provides funding for investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, and expired in 2011. The Senate expanded the bill to include undocumented immigrants and LGBT individuals, and gave Native American tribal authorities jurisdiction over sex-crimes involving non-Native Americans on tribal lands.
After voting down a measure to increase funding for VAWA in May of 2012, and passing a version that stripped down protections for LGBT Americans, Native Americans, and undocumented immigrants, House Republicans ended the year by rejecting the Senate’s expansion for undocumented immigrants and the LGBT community in the Senate bill. The 112th Congress adjourned without renewing VAWA, temporarily ending its coverage after 18 years.
The Senate passed the reauthorization bill again in February 2013, by a vote of 78 to 22. Every female Senator — Democrats and Republicans — voted for the bill. All of the 22 opposing votes were cast by Republican men.
House Republicans again hoped to pass their own version of the bill in 2013. The stripped down version was rejected by a vote of 257 to 166, and the House passed the Senate’s all-inclusive version in a 286 to 138 votes.
The Economic War On Women
After the 2012 election, fellow blogger Richard Eskow counted the ways that “The War on Women is a Class War.” I’ve added a few more below.
- There are much fewer women than men at the top of the pay scale. Roughly two-thirds of Americans who earn $10,000 or less are women. As income goes up, the percentage of women approaches equal status around middle-class income levels, and then goes right back down. Nearly two-thirds of the those earning $100,000 to $249,000 per year are men. Less than 1 in 4 Americans earning $250,000 or more are women.
- Discrimination and lack of equal pay harms women. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, women still only earn 77 cents for every dollar that men earn, even though they receive more college degrees than men. On average, women earn less than men in every single occupation. The Paycheck Fairness Act would address this disparity, but has languished in Congress since 2010 due to a lack of Republican support.
- Cuts to anti-poverty programs disproportionately hurt women. Republicans insist on paying for continued tax cuts for the wealthiest (and mostly male) Americans with cuts to anti-poverty programs. Approximately one in three American women live in poverty or on the brink of it. As women are more likely to be poor than men are (see above), these cuts hit women the hardest.
- Austerity cuts are harming women. Those austerity measures Republicans love so much disproportionately affect women’s employment in both the public and private sectors. Women hold a disproportionately large share of public sector jobs, which have historically provided them more equity and opportunity. Austerity imposes wage cuts and pay freezes on women who are already making less on average than men. In addition, cuts to anti-poverty programs that provide childcare, like Head Start, have a negative impact on single mothers’ ability to work.
- Keeping the minimum wage low hurts women. Women are disproportionately represented among those struggling in minimum wage jobs that don’t pay them enough to afford food, shelter, transportation, or medical care. To make up the difference, they must rely on welfare programs that are now threatened by austerity cuts.
Republican “rebranding” notwithstanding, 2013 was the year that Republicans ramped up their economic war on women. Republicans have consistently proposed policies that would worsen the disparities mentioned above, and opposed policies that would begin to improve them. As Joan Walsh wrote, the $40 billion cut to food stamps, proposed by House Republicans, is “as much a salvo in the GOP war on women as any new transvaginal probe law or the latest Republican assertion about ‘legitimate rape.’”
From the bedroom and the doctor’s office, the boardroom and the shop floor, all the way to the kitchen table, it all adds up to a Republican-waged “war on women.” Not even Rand Paul dragging a 20-year-old scandal out of mothballs can change that.