What women want … from the ‘super committee’
The subject of a recent episode of the NBC comedy series “The Office” was about a doomsday device created by devious employee Dwight K. Schrute (played by Rainn Wilson). If his fellow co-workers committed five errors in a single workday, the device was wired to send an email to their CEO with information likely to result in the staff’s firing.
In the case of today’s long-term deficit-reduction negotiations in Congress –- currently being deliberated by the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, or “super committee” –- Congress is Dwight, Nov. 23 is Dwight’s 5 p.m. (the sequester deadline, i.e., the trigger mechanism that would make $1.2 trillion across-the-board cuts), and both scenarios can be nipped in the bud by their respective creators.
Time is running out for the super committee, appointed to cut at least $1.2 trillion from the federal deficit over the next decade, and if — as many news outlets are predicting — they fail to come up with a solid plan within the next nine days, Congress will plan to slash $600 billion from defense spending and $600 billion from domestic programs excluding Social Security and Medicaid, including cuts to Medicare payments to hospitals and other providers, come the 2013 budget.
The American Independent recently reported on how certain GOP presidential candidates’ proposed tax-policy plans would disproportionately affect women, who tend to earn lower wages and depend more on entitlement programs than men. This week, TAI takes a look at how the super committee’s proposal could disproportionately impact women.
What’s on the table?
Reporting that has emerged from the closed-door super committee meetings reveals the six Democrats on the panel are generally insistent on raising revenues from tax increases; wish to end the Bush-era tax cuts; and preserve Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The six Republicans, meanwhile, have slowly begun to discuss revenues but are opposed to achieving them through tax cuts; want to make permanent the Bush-era tax cuts; and are pushing to restructure how Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are paid for in the future.
Roll Call details the latest in negotiations: Last week panel member Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) proposed a $1.2 trillion plan comprising $700 billion in cuts and $500 billion in revenues (half of the revenues would come from $250 billion in “tax code reform’). The most recent Democratic offer is a $2.3 trillion reduction plan over 10 years involving $1 trillion in revenues (including tax hikes) and $400 billion in “entitlement reform.”
Still they remain at an impasse.
But as Politico recently reported, despite having the power to dismantle the doomsday device, the president won’t take it. According to a White House statement, on Friday Obama called super committee co-chairs Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Jeb. Hensarling (R-Texas) to tell them he will refuse attempts to override the automatic cuts if the panel can’t complete the task. (In the “Office” episode, Dwight makes the same promise after the staff does fail, but he caves at the 11th hour.)
“The sequester was agreed to by both parties to ensure there was a meaningful enforcement mechanism to force a result from the Committee,” Obama said in the statement. “Congress must not shirk its responsibilities.”
One prediction if the super committee fails is that industries and special-interest groups will spend a year before the trigger takes effect lobbying Congress to reconsider cuts to specific programs. The Hill forecasts heavy lobbying from the Pentagon, defense contractors, liberal activists and labor unions.
Women’s advocacy groups have already begun voicing suggestions as to how to trim spending without devastating the neediest Americans, many of whom happen to be single women with children.
Early this month, National Organization for Women (NOW) President Terry O’Neill blasted the super committee’s “irresponsible proposals,” referring to assumptions the Republican members on the committee are pushing for Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan-style changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security while, at the same time, opposing tax increases on corporations and millionaires. O’Neill similarly censured proposals she had heard from the Democratic side:
[I]t’s beyond distressing to see some Democrats knuckling under and now embracing plans that would cause great hardship on retirees — mainly women, particularly women of color, as well as people with severe disabilities and our oldest seniors. The Democrats’ proposal would change the [Social Security Cost-of-Living adjustment] (COLA) so that monthly benefits are dramatically reduced, further impoverishing the millions of seniors who depend exclusively on their Social Security check. Medicare would be cut by $400 billion (on top of the $500 billion savings adopted in the Affordable Care Act), and Medicaid would be cut by $75 billion. … There’s not much worse than taking from the most vulnerable in society to pay for a deficit caused by a failure to tax millionaires and billionaires and waging two unfunded wars.
So what does NOW want the super committee to do?
- ****Preserve COLA and minimize cuts to programs that disproportionately serve and employ women, among them Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as food stamps; college-tuition-assistance programs, child care; and family planning programs.
- End Bush-era tax cuts.
- Eliminate the payroll tax cap, which would raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), a think thank that focuses on women’s domestic issues, has ideas of how to improve women’s economic standing in this country — ideas that likely contradict proposals the super committee members have been tossing around. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, although men have regained nearly 30 percent of the jobs they lost during the recession, women have regained only 10 percent of the jobs they lost. In July, men earned 136,000 jobs; women lost 19,000.
Among IWPR proposals, as laid out in a September 2011 report titled “Recommendations for Improving Women’s Employment in the Recovery”:
- Make federal transfers available to state and local governments to replace lost revenues and allow them to hire back the teachers, case workers, nurses and others they have laid off.
- Expand the length of the school day and school year.
- Create an “Urban Conservation Corps” — programs partnering labor unions with inner-city youth with the goal of bring skills and employment opportunities to young women and men.
- Fund child care.
- Adopt tax incentives for businesses that offer their employees “work-life balance.”
- Expand unemployment insurance benefits for workers with reduced working hours.
- Expand employment for women in male-dominated fields, such as construction, transportation and green energy
- Increase funding for jobs that provide direct care to children, disabled adults and the elderly. (According to the Economic Policy Institute (PDF), investments in physical infrastructure and human capital, such as early childhood development, education, health care, job training, would create jobs for women and men and contribute to long-term economic growth.)
Over at the National Women’s Law Center, the general position on the super committee proceedings is that the panel should promote job growth and strengthen the economy while simultaneously protecting programs that women and their families depend on now and in old age — women in general depend on Medicare and Medicaid at higher rates than men, and two-thirds of SNAP recipients are female, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (PDF).
Specifically the NWLC wants:
- Reduced tax breaks for oil and gas industries and corporations that move jobs and profits overseas.
- New tax brackets for annual income starting above $1 million and taxing income from capital gains and dividends at the same rate as income from work for taxpayers with income above $1 million.
- A small tax on financial transactions such as stock trades — to raise revenue but also to discourage short-term speculation. According to the Economic Policy Institute and the Century Foundation, a 0.5 percent tax on stock transactions would raise about $77 billion per year; a 0.5 percent tax on all financial transactions (options, futures, swap transactions) would raise approximately $150 billion per year.
- An extension on federal emergency unemployment benefits.
But for now, what women want — what all Americans want, and they all want different things — is in the hands of 12 under-pressure representatives and senators. And the clock is ticking.