Women in politics

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(Host) Commentator Madeleine May Kunin says a recent debate in Congress highlights the political power of women.

(Kunin) Do women who hold political office make a difference? To find the answer, take a look at the debate in the United States Congress over the child tax credit for low-income families. When the conferees were haggling over the bill more than a week ago, they wanted to make ends meet to achieve the goal of 350 billion dollars—and no more.

Where to cut? Eliminate the child tax credit for low-income families. That seemed easy. Perhaps they thought no one would notice. Low-income families could be ignored because they lack the political power to cause a fuss. But they forgot one thing. The wrath of the fourteen women in the U.S. Senate, four of who are working mothers of young children.

These women could speak from personal experience as they juggled their working lives with motherhood, interspersing their schedules with dentist appointments, sneaker purchases, and efforts to be home for dinner. These women, who lead the charge to restore the tax credit for 6.5 million low income families had clout because they brought their experience into the unfriendly family atmosphere of the United States Senate.

Yes, men are fathers and often feel conflicts as well, but let’s face it, the primary responsibility for child care continues to be rest with women. When they spoke, the Senate listened and passed a bill restoring the $400 per child tax credits overwhelmingly, with only two “no” votes.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, a different story is unfolding with Tom DeLay, Republican House leader complaining that there were more important issues on the agenda. He refused to take it up.

Then the White House weighed in. Spokesman Ari Fleischer made it clear that the President wants to sign this bill. He did not want to further arouse the wrath of the women in the Senate, and the women in the country.

There is more bargaining ahead for this significant tax credit for poor families, but one thing is clear. The male dominated U.S. Congress cannot ignore issues, which affect low-income American families and expect that no one will raise a ruckus. And, we can conclude that women in politics make a difference when they speak from their own experience. They not only speak for themselves but give voice to the millions of women and children who otherwise would be relegated to silence.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.

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