WASHINGTON -- At a summer lunch with reporters in her Capitol conference room, Rep. Nancy Pelosi rolled out an ambitious economic agenda for women with next year’s congressional elections in mind.
She launched a legislative agenda of family-friendly policies, such as paycheck fairness for women, an increased federal minimum wage, and President Obama’s proposed early childhood education initiative.
The Democrats’ agenda, coming as the legislative season begins to make way for next year’s campaigns, was designed to stand in contrast to bills being debated under the GOP majority on the House floor. “It’s all about letting women know there’s an opportunity for something different,” Pelosi said, over salads, sandwiches and sodas.
Pelosi, the only woman to have been House speaker, could regain that title again, if Democrats pick up the 17 seats needed to pry the House majority from the Republicans.
That prospect remains a heavy political challenge when newly drawn congressional districts could give the GOP the advantage through the decade.
“It’s possible, but certainly not an easy feat,” according to an analysis from the Rothenberg Political Report.
Pelosi’s new agenda seizes a potential opening as Republicans nationally have done damage to their brand among some women voters. The GOP supported several candidates during the last election who expressed views about women’s issues that many voters found outmoded or simply inaccurate. Republicans lost seats the GOP was favored to win in Senate races in Missouri and Indiana.
At the same time, House Republicans have furthered the perception of a “war on women,” some have argued, by resisting such legislation as the Violence Against Women Act, which reauthorized domestic violence programs, and supporting a bill passed last month to restrict some abortions.
Pelosi’s agenda steers clear of those divisive social issues, aiming instead at women’s pocketbooks.
Republicans dismissed the Democratic effort as one that is outweighed by the costs the nation’s new healthcare law – passed under Pelosi’s leadership -- will have on women if healthcare premiums rise.
“Talk is cheap,” said Andrew Bozek, spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “When you look at what the Democrats have actually done to women in this economy, versus what they’re promising – it’s a stark contrast. Obamacare’s litany of broken promises is a perfect example of how their agenda has hurt women and their families.”
Voters unaligned with either party remain a sought-after component of the electorate and Democrats’ economic agenda for women is primed to capture their attention.
“Women are really struggling today,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Ct.), a longtime champion of women’s issues, who sat to Pelosi’s right. “They’re looking for an increase in their income, in equal pay, in education opportunities -- that’s what the focus of this agenda.”
The collection of bills included many Democratic priorities repackaged into an economic message for women. They included raising the minimum wage, ensuring women earn equal pay compared to men and expanding options for child care and family medical leave to those workers who do not have such benefits. They also tap into Obama’s stalled initiatives on early childhood education.
Prospects for passage of any of these bills under House Speaker John A. Boehner’s GOP majority are all but non-existent.
But that is, in some ways, beside the point of the rollout.
“If making this fuss impacts their decision making, that for us is the success,” Pelosi said. “We would rather they join us in this, rather than our having this as a political weapon.”
Twitter: @LisaMascaroinDCCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun