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Political Report Card: Women at the Head of the Class

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With Congress at a stalemate in the budget process, it may seem like a stretch to hand out gold stars to any of our elected leaders. However, in the face of the first government shutdown since 1995, there are some leaders who are living up to the title. I'm focusing my attention on them.

From Congress to state legislatures to campaigns across the country, women are stepping up and showing their policy prowess. (And their compassion. Look to examples like U.S. Senators Heidi Heitkamp and Amy Klobuchar, among others, who are donating their salaries to charity during the shutdown).

Here, a short list of women making the grade:

Economics

When it comes to initiating policies that work, one woman most likely to succeed is Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

Gillibrand's latest policy push, the Opportunity Plan, is a package of five bills that will help level the playing field for women and families. The Opportunity Plan seeks to increase the minimum wage; implement universal pre-kindergarten; calls for paid family and medical leave; ensures equal pay for equal work by finally passing the Paycheck Fairness Act; and expands the child and dependent care tax credit.

While the plan is targeted squarely at women and families, its effects will reverberate through the entire economy. Department of Labor statistics paint this picture: Women made up 47 percent of the workforce in 2010, are the sole or primary provider in 40 percent of American families, and are projected to account for 51 percent of increase in total labor force growth by 2018.

Investing in women is investing in families -- and that is good news for our economy.

Health

What can I say about Texas State Senator Wendy Davis? She became a feminist force to be reckoned with when she filibustered the Texas Senate this summer to block a restrictive bill that eventually passed to close all but five abortion clinics in Texas. That filibuster rocketed her from state senator to superstar, but what is most noteworthy about Davis is deeper than a 13-hour marathon speech. It is her willingness to do what is right, even if it is not popular. She is a leader with an unmatched courage of conviction -- and the backbone to follow through.

And let us not forget that the now-famous filibuster was not her first. One of Davis's priorities as a legislator -- education -- was the focus of a 2011 filibuster in which she stood up against cuts to public schools. It may have been women's health that catapulted her into the spotlight, but it is clear that Davis is a workhorse for other issues that matter, too.

Senator Davis made a big announcement today: She will run for governor of Texas. She has a nation of inspired and grateful women standing up for her.

Social Studies

A group of Democratic women senators, including Senators Barbara Boxer, Debbie Stabenow, and Mazie Hirono, this week called out House Republican leaders for holding a federal budget hostage and undercutting women's health and well-being in the process.

In pointing out that attempts to strip funding from and delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act disproportionately affects women, these senators put a human face on a financial issue -- placing it squarely in the realm of social policy where it belongs.

They showed why they are leaders in the truest sense of the word: They are in touch with what really matters, and I am so grateful to have them in Congress. When progressive women are elected and given a place at the table -- figuratively and literally -- they stand up for policies that work for everyone.