In a meeting with reporters on Capitol Hill, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) rolled out on Thursday what they called a campaign to economic issues important to women.
"Our success as a nation really depends on our success of women," Pelosi said to reporters. "And this is something that has to be unleashed in a more important way than it has."
The agenda, named "When Women Succeed, America Succeeds: An Economic Agenda for Women and Families" hones in on three key principles the four congresswomen -- Pelosi, DeLauro, Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) and Rep. Doris Matsu (D-CA) -- view as essential to women's economic success: Equal pay for equal work, emphasis on the work-family balance, including paid sick leave, and adequate funding for child care.
DeLauro emphasized that this isn't "tied to specific legislation" and they said that that they hadn't been working directly with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) who had proposed a similar agenda of legislative issues in recent months, but they plan to hold events almost weekly through the rest of the calendar year.
When reporters asked if they'd reached out to female colleagues on the Republican side, DeLauro said, "There are only so many 'Dear Colleagues' letters to send" and referenced Republican Rep. Martha Blackburn's recent remarks alleging that women didn't need equal pay legislation because they just wanted to be "recognized."
Pelosi added that "My key phrase was always, don't agonize, organize. We have a problem with equal pay, we have a problem about child care, we have a problem about not being able to take sick leave. Let's organize around this. And believe me when I tell you this: We would rather they join us in this rather than having to use it as a political weapon."
Notably missing from the agenda -- which includes bolstering the Paycheck Fairness Act, Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, paid sick leave, paid parental leave, Obama's push for near-universal preschool and child care subsidies and tax credits -- are the "hot button" issues like the anti-abortion "war on women" and any attempts to redress the Supreme Court's decision to narrow the definition of a supervisor when bringing forward a harassment case against a supervisor.
Rather, it seems to be an attempt to raise middle-of-the-road economic issues for women as Congress gears up for 2014 midterms.
"We want to have many more women in Congress," Pelosi said. "I keep saying, if you reduce the role of money in politics and increase the level of civility, you'd have more women in Congress, and that would be a very wholesome thing for our society, in terms of successes we can have for women."
Pelosi likened the organizing around these family-friendly policies to the organizing around the Violence Against Women Act, which finally came to a vote in the House after political outcry over letting the legislation expire became "too hot to handle."
Matsu joined the meeting and said, "We have these issues that transcend being women. ... There's more that we can do, more that we have to do."
"These women sit around tables, I'm talking about high-tech women. I've met with business owners. I've met with teachers. I've met women who work two jobs. We always come back to the same issues, of balancing -- 'I need money. I need child care.'"
Pelosi agreed, "This is about how to pay the bills. That isn't to say it's inclusive of every women's issue that is out there. It's about one focus: How do we value the worth of women? How do we enable them to participate without getting fired if someone in their family gets sick? And how do we enable them to meet their family responsibilities?"
When Raw Story asked about the absence of protections against sexual harassment on the agenda, in light of the Surpreme Court's recent decision to narrow the definition of "supervisor" and recent allegations against former congressman and San Diego Mayor Bob Filner as a perpetrator of sexual harassment, Pelosi pushed back. "You can tie almost any issue to this, and people will, as they go out there, but I don't want -- and I don't mean to say that you're doing this -- I don't want to trivialize this core disrespect for women in the workplace in terms of how their work is rewarded, how their time is respected, and the role that they play at home is respected by getting involved in pinning every other issue on. We have a long list of issues that we fight for women here," she said. "Everything is connected to women, but what we're talking about here, is how you get paid, how you can take a day off if you're sick and how your kids are cared for while you're working. That is what this thrust is."
Edwards added, "The fact is, it's an attempt to speak to what women are telling us their concerns are. Their concerns are about how they take care of themselves and their families. ... The family is basically losing a quarter to a third of its income because of the pay disparity."
"This is an agenda that speaks to what women have been telling us for a very long time," Edwards concluded.
Family Values @ Work Executive Director Ellen Bravo, in a press release sent shortly after the announcement, said, "Family Values @ Work applauds the efforts of Leader Nancy Pelosi, Congresswomen Rosa DeLauro, Donna Edwards and Doris Matsui in spearheading the Women's Economic Agenda. Our coalitions in the cities and states know earned sick days and affordable family leave are key to the economic security of families and to our nation's overall economic stability, as well as key to women's equality."
"At heart, policies that value families at work strengthen the economy. These policies help keep people employed and with enough money in their pockets to cover their basic expenses and support local businesses. We are proud to be part of this initiative."
[Photo by Kay Steiger]
[Correction: This story originally identified DeLauro as from California. We regret the error.]