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National NOW Times >> Summer, 2001 >> Article

Legislative Update: Bush and Congress Reach Out to Rich White Guys

by Jan Erickson, Government Relations Director

Bush Tax Cut Affects Women
The $5 trillion projected federal surplus represents an extraordinary chance to improve opportunities for women and could do much to narrow the gap between rich and poor. But that chance may be lost with both the House and Senate supporting George W. Bush’s massive tax cut that primarily benefits upper-income groups. A report by the National Women’s Law Center found that more than a third of single mothers (3.1 million women) will receive no tax benefit at all while middle-income families (earning between $27,000 to $44,000 annually) would receive only about $500.

NOW and more than 100 other national organizations object to the large cuts, calling attention to a continuing need for significant investments in education, early childhood development, expanded health care coverage and a senior prescription drug benefit. Such a massive cut, the group asserts, threatens Social Security and Medicare solvency. Those programs obligate about $2.9 trillion of the surplus--which may not, itself, materialize if the economy goes into a serious recession. A trillion dollar plus tax cut over ten years will actually amount to about twice that when interest cost increases due to slowed payment of the national debt and other factors are added.

Bush and the Republican leadership targeted senators up for re-election in 2002 with an intensive television ad campaign in support of deep cuts. It worked: the Senate voted 65-35 for H. Con. Res. 83, the budget/tax cut resolution, on April 6, with Sens. Dianne Feinstein (CA), Mary Landrieu (LA) and Jean Carnahan (MO) joining the 15 Democratic defectors. The House passed most of Bush’s $1.61 trillion package, but the Senate trimmed it by $423 billion -- designating some of the funds for education of children with disabilities. Other parts of the package include such long-desired conservative objectives as phasing out the estate tax at a substantial cost to the government and to charities, and passing the so-called marriage tax repeal that favors higher-income earners and a number of other tax breaks. One good change is the doubling of a child care tax credit to $1,000, making it partially refundable to help middle- and lower-income parents.

The Bush administration withheld budget details until after a vote was taken on the more general budget and tax cut resolution. The total for FY 2002 programs that the Bush administration proposes is $661 billion, including $324.9 billion for defense programs. Various components of this budget plan are alarming: $200 billion is cut from the already woefully underfunded Child Care and Development Block Grant, $9 million from the never-adequately-funded Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an effective reduction in the number of Head Start slots and other programs targeting disadvantaged children, $1 billion from low-income housing assistance programs and serious cuts to health care, environmental protection and natural resources management programs.

To help pay for the large tax cut, the Bush plan will take $600 billion out of the expected $2.6 trillion Social Security surplus, putting $400 billion of that into a reserve account that could be used for transition costs to a privatized retirement system--which NOW and many other women’s organizations strongly oppose.

The budget plan invades the Medicare trust fund by taking all of a projected surplus of $526 billion and re-allocating it to other programs, thereby placing it in serious jeopardy. The president says that $156 billion of that will be used for prescription drug coverage for low-income seniors; Democrats charge that his plan falls short by $158 billion. Education funding under the Bush plan is a pitiful $12 billion; Democrats say that ten times that amount is required to improve the quality of education, help attract and pay teachers more, and build or restore desperately needed schools. The final total on these dangerous tax cuts may well increase after corporate interest groups lobby conference committee members.

Other News

ERA Reintroduced - On March 22, women’s equal rights advocates held a news conference on the Capitol grounds to reiterate the need for a constitutional amendment. Standing in front of a historic ERA banner from NOW, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and more than a dozen members of Congress announced the introduction of H.J. Res. 40/S. J. Res 10, sponsored by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), calling for hearings and a repeat of the full ratification process. Another resolution (H. Res. 98), sponsored by Rep. Robert Andrews (D-NJ), would affirm the Madison strategy, verifying ratification when three additional state legislatures have passed the appropriate legislation. NOW Executive Vice President Kim Gandy issued a news statement calling for an equal rights amendment that would protect women’s reproductive rights.

Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault - A half dozen members of Congress, led by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), announced at a Capitol Hill press event on April 25 the introduction of S. Res. 72, designating the month of April as National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In early April, Attorney General John Ashcroft said that the Bush administration will ask Congress for an additional $102.5 million to bring Department of Justice Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) funding up to authorized levels. (Note: Department of Health and Human Services VAWA programs are still seriously under-funded.) But, the Violence Against Women Office within the Department of Justice is still threatened with a reorganization and fragmentation of its programs.

Equal Pay Day - News conferences and briefings around the country and in Washington, D.C., were held again this year on Equal Pay Day, April 3, calling attention to the continuing wide disparity between wages paid to women vs. men. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, (D-DC) sponsor of the Fair Pay Act, H.R. 1362/S. 684 with Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) announced findings from a new study of federal contractors that documents even more conclusively the presence of sex and race discrimination in employment.

Bankruptcy - Without the threat of a veto that President Clinton made in past years, the 107th Congress quickly passed a regressive bankruptcy bill (S. 420) that makes collection more difficult for the 150,000 women owed child support or alimony and for another 200,000 women forced into bankruptcy each year who are also owed support. A provision was included that prevents clinic violence perpetrators from declaring bankruptcy to avoid paying court fines, fees and damages.

White House Women’s Office - Continuing to exhibit an amazing lack of political sensitivity, Bush quietly closed the White House Women’s Office which was created at the request of the women’s advocacy community and for the past five years had served as a conduit between those groups and top White House officials.

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