WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama vowed on Friday to continue making economic security for women a priority and touted a new report that showcases the ways his policies have benefited them and, in turn, the entire country.
"Women are not some monolithic block," Obama said during remarks at a White House forum on women and the economy. "Women are not an interest group. You shouldn't be treated that way."
"Women are over half this country and its workforce, not to mention 80 percent of my household, if you count my mother-in-law," the president said during the all-day affair arranged by the White House Council on Women and Girls. "And I always count my mother-in-law."
The president made the case that women's economic security affects the lives of everyone and said his Council on Women and Girls was focused on examining the challenges that women faced "long before the recession hit."
The council's new report, "Keeping America's Women Moving Forward," mapped out the ways the administration says it has tried to safeguard women's economic security through different stages of life, from the college to the working years -- and then the preretirement period. The report also examined women's economic prosperity as compared with men's and enumerated some recent gains by women.
Women make only 77 cents for every dollar that men make when performing the same job, the report noted. But Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009, which has allowed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to pay women $62.5 million in monetary relief to redress discrimination, the report said.
Of the 3.4 million Pell grants awarded to students for higher education since Obama took office, nearly two-thirds, or 2.3 million, have gone to women, according to the report. The administration has strived to promote women's entry into science, technology, engineering and math careers -- which pay 30 percent more than other types of work -- by giving women an advantage in the $4.35 billion Race to the Top grant competition, the report stated.
The government has provided assistance so that 16 billion small business loans, totaling $4.5 billion, have gone to women, who own nearly a third of small businesses in the United States, it added.
"This is personal," Obama said about the work of the White House council. "These are not just women's issues. They are family issues, they are economic issues ... They are issues about American competitiveness."
The report also highlighted several ways that Obama's signature legislative accomplishment -- the Affordable Care Act -- was been designed to benefit women: An estimated 20.4 million women can now receive mammograms, prenatal care and cervical cancer screenings through their insurance plans at no extra cost. Starting in August, women will also have access to contraception, domestic violence screenings, well-woman visits and breastfeeding supplies with no co-payment required. By 2014, insurance companies will no longer be able to charge women higher premiums than men or deny health coverage because of a "pre-existing condition," such as breast cancer or pregnancy.
The White House forum and report landed at a time when, in the political sphere, Democrats are determined to keep attacking Republicans for their "war on women" in the coming months. Democrats have been raising huge chunks of money and firing up their base ever since House Republicans held a February hearing on birth control and religious liberty that included almost no female witnesses or supporters of Obama's contraception rule.
Senior administration officials brushed off the suggestion that the forum and the report had anything to do with politics during a Thursday background briefing on the matter.
The forum and the report's release were "nicely timed [to take place] between Women's History Month and Equal Pay Day" on April 12, said an administration official.
Asked if the forum also had a strategic timing in the context of Democrats' "war on women" campaign, the official said the report and forum are part of ongoing White House efforts since Obama began his presidency. "We've been talking about [women] for three years, said the official. "This is something that we talk about all the time."
But discussions at the White House on Friday about women do seem to be connected to the message on the campaign trail. The chairwoman of Obama's party, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, tweeted Thursday about being in "the city of Brotherly Love with a simple message: The GOP has no love for our sisters."
Even Obama acknowledged that women's issues have been at center stage in recent months. "There's been a lot of talk about women and women's issues lately, as there should be," he said. "But I think the conversation has been oversimplified."
Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, who is lagging among women voters in the polls, might have alienated women further on Wednesday when he declared that his wife, Ann, "reports to me" that women care about the economy. But his campaign spokeswoman bristled at the notion that Obama's economic policies had benefited women at all.
"Women account for 92.3 percent of jobs lost under President Obama's failed policies," Andrea Saul, Romney's spokeswoman, told The Huffington Post. "If he considers that fact as women 'benefiting,' he is even more clueless on the economy than we thought."
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