Violence: Two significant victories in the 103rd Congress are vulnerable under the Contract and more specifically, under the Republicans' agenda. The Violence Against Women Act, which passed as part of the crime bill, authorizes $1.6 billion for education, training of judges and police officers, more battered women's shelters and other prevention programs aimed at addressing violence against women. This law is in jeopardy through reopening of the crime bill to cut funding and through many of the budget cutting measures proposed.
Debate on reopening the crime bill is expected in February/early March. Key legislators continue to say that the funding for the Violence Against Women Act is not in jeopardy, but nonetheless we should be wary. The more likely threat comes through the appropriations process. Clinton will submit his budget around Feb. 7; our challenge will be to make sure that the amounts appropriated for the year are as high as the amounts authorized in VAWA for FY 96.
The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which addresses violence at reproductive health clinics, was also a victory in the last Congress. Anti-abortion members of Congress have already targeted FACE for weakening in the next Congress, possibly when they reconsider the crime bill. Violence at the clinics did not end with the passage of FACE; four more people were murdered and the harassment and intimidation continue.
Kudos go to Senator Barbara Boxer, who after several weeks of trying to bring the issue to the floor and much negotiation with anti-abortion senators on the language, sponsored a "sense of the Senate" resolution concerning the protection of reproductive health clinics on January 18. It calls on the Attorney General to fully enforce the law to protect those at the clinics from violent attack. It passed 99-0 (Helms was absent).
Health: The last Congress also saw an increase in funding for breast and cervical cancer research; poor women's mammograms were also covered. Reproductive health services expanded to include federal employees health coverage for abortion and Medicaid coverage for abortion for poor women in cases of rape and incest. All of these are jeopardized by the Contract's budget cuts, the anti-abortion agenda of the new majority in the House, and the specific reintroduction of the gag rule (no counseling about abortion services for women on welfare).
Rep. Pat Schroeder introduced a bill on Jan. 23 called the "Women's Right to Know Act" which seeks to eliminate the gag rule entirely. This bill would amend Title XI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and guarantee that the Federal or State governments cannot restrict a medical worker's right to give or a woman's right to get information about the reproductive health options available to her, including family planning, prenatal care, adoption or abortion services.
Poverty: The Contract seeks to cut off benefits for children born to teen mothers (up to age 21), to women on welfare for additional children, and in cases where paternity is not established; institute a "two-years and you're out" policy without regard to adequate child care, education, training, health care or job availability; encourage the states to use the cost savings via block grants to the states to build orphanages to take children from poor women who cannot support them; roll nutrition and housing benefits for poor women and children into a block grant to the states which will be subject to yearly discretionary spending caps; and end virtually all assistance for non-citizens. The most vulnerable members of our society, poor women and children, will be punished for the mere fact of being poor. The Contract does nothing to address job creation (other than a capital gains tax cut) or elevating the minimum wage above the poverty level.
Hearings on the Personal Responsibility Act have been held in the Ways and Means committee . Several members of welfare rights groups disrupted the hearings on Friday, 1/20 and Monday, 1/23, stating that welfare recipients have not been given a voice in the hearings. Mark up on a bill wll happen in the Human Resources subcommittee of the House Ways and Means committee on Feb. 13.
Civil Rights Laws: The Contract erodes the enforcement of civil rights, worker's rights, employment discrimination and environmental laws under the guise of a "cost/benefit" analysis on all new and existing regulations. Agencies must justify the costs of those regulations to the states and to businesses and then must lower the costs each year to be less than the proceeding year. The Republicans do not weigh in the balance the benefits civil rights and non-discrimination laws have for individuals and the society at large; these laws are basic constitutional rights guaranteed to everyone. Furthermore, a leading Republican Senator, Senator Orrin Hatch, has targeted the work of Deval Patrick, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, for particular scrutiny in the next Congress.
Hearings on this issue, under the Contract's Job Creation and Wage Enhancement Act, will begin in early February, starting first in the House Science committee.