The debt ceiling agreement reached this week by the White House and Congress could deal a serious blow to women's well-being, according to leading women's rights groups. The deal will potentially impose $1 trillion in cuts to programs that mostly serve and employ women, such as family planning clinics, food stamps, college tuition assistance and childcare.
The National Organization for Women (NOW), the largest feminist organization in the country, called on President Obama to "stand up to the conservatives and Tea Party activists" and resist balancing the federal budget on the backs of the most vulnerable people in this country -- namely women, and especially women of color.
Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman interviewed NOW President Terry O'Neill about the debt deal and how few women were involved in the negotiations.
Here is an excerpt of the interview transcript:
AMY GOODMAN: Where were the women at the debt deal negotiation table?
TERRY O'NEILL: You know, they really were not there, Amy. Women comprise only 17 percent of the United States Congress, to begin with, and less than 20 percent of state governorships. So we don't have enough women in elected office, to begin with. But we do have women that could have been, early on in the process, talking about this. Nancy Pelosi has been a great champion, frankly, for women throughout the debt ceiling manufactured crisis. But she was only one person. And in addition to that, because we have so few women in Congress, we therefore need the men at the table to have a clue about the impact of their decisions on women. And it's not clear to me that those men really understand what they've done with this latest budget deal.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, clearly, many people will be heard, especially as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security is threatened. Why is it differentially painful for women?
TERRY O'NEILL: So, the programs that are being cut -- the childcare and family planning clinics and prenatal care and job training -- those are disproportionately utilized by women. And a lot of people don't focus on the fact that those are programs that disproportionately employ women. And when I say that, what I mean is, think about those programs. Who works in them? Well, the social workers and childcare workers and educators and healthcare providers -- so, predominantly women. Those are the things that have been cut immediately.
Now, the so-called "super committee" that has yet to be appointed that is supposed to propose even more spending cuts by November, that super committee is structured so that it will be looking at Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security. Women rely disproportionately on those programs because women don't have savings to fall back on in tough economic times. Why don't we have those savings? Well, it's because women are paid only 77 cents to the dollar on average, the gender wage gap. But for women of color, there is a race-based, as well as a gender-based, wage gap. So African-American women are being paid just 69 cents on the dollar and Latinas just 59 cents on the dollar. You can't save with that, so you rely much more heavily on Social Security and on Medicare to get by.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about the issue of education and how it affects women, Terry O'Neill?
TERRY O'NEILL: Well, sure. You need -- women need college tuition assistance, because they need that college degree. Women who have a college degree very often end up making, over their lifetime, only the same amount of money as men who simply have a high school degree. In fact, this wage disparity -- this is an amazing statistic that I read recently. Over her lifetime, on average, a woman loses $400,000 to $2 million just over her lifetime just due to wage discrimination.
AMY GOODMAN: How do you respond to people like Bill O'Reilly who believe all money for women's health services should be privately raised?
TERRY O'NEILL: Well, I like the idea of $250,000 for the military, and leave it at that. Let Bill O'Reilly raise the money privately for the military. And let's use our tax dollars to actually produce healthy people and to allow people to thrive in their communities... So, for Bill O'Reilly to suggest that women should be deprived of healthcare, I think, suggests that he doesn't understand public health, let alone understand the needs of over half the population.
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