Pelosi and House Democrats launch economic agenda for women

House Democrats on Thursday launched a new campaign designed to bolster economic opportunities for women.

Behind House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the lawmakers are pushing a series of bills to promote pay equity in the workplace, make child care more affordable and encourage a balance between jobs and family for the nation's working women.

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"When women succeed, America succeeds. This agenda is about the future of America's families and the growth of America's economy," Pelosi told a crowd gathered outside the Capitol on a sweltering day in Washington. "It is about unleashing the power of our nation's women and in doing so strengthening the middle class, the backbone of our democracy."

Though unmentioned on Thursday, the push is also a not-so-veiled effort to distinguish Democrats from the majority Republicans when it comes to issues of gender.

Pelosi and the Democrats scored a political win last year when they attacked the Republicans for proposals limiting federal backing for women's reproductive healthcare services. The latest campaign extends that fight to the economic realm.

Central to the effort is legislation sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) – the Paycheck Fairness Act – that would discourage pay discrimination by empowering workers to share more wage information and providing women with more tools to challenge gender-based wage discrepancies.

DeLauro said Thursday that the bill will go a long way to bring pay equity to the workplace.

"Fifty years after the Equal Pay Act, women are still being paid only 77 cents on the dollar as compared to men for the same job," she said. "That comes to an average real difference of $11,000 per year. That is two years' worth of groceries, or over a year of rent."

A second element of the campaign revolves around the idea of allowing working women more flexibility in raising families. Toward that end, Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) is promoting an amendment to the the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that would provide mandatory paid leave for women who take time away from work for activities like childbirth, child rearing and caring for family members with serious health problems. Under current law, only unpaid leave is offered in those situations.

"Today, we want to outline an economic agenda that says that we can actually build on FMLA," Edwards said. "These women who are so deeply woven in the economic fabric of our country should also have the benefit of knowing that they would be able to take paid leave."

Rep. Doris Matsui is the face of the campaign's third facet. The California Democrat is pushing reforms to make childcare services more affordable for working women. She promoted the idea of expanding the childcare tax credit, bolstering existing programs under Head Start and increasing funding for the training of childcare workers.

"Every mother has had to face the frightening moment of uncertainty when one responsibility is pulling them in one direction and their duties as a mother are pulling them in another," Matsui said. "For too many women it may be the choice between a paycheck or a safe environment for their kids. This is not a choice any mom should have to make."

With Republicans controlling the House, the proposals have little chance of moving through Congress anytime soon. Still, the Democrats are vowing to keep a spotlight on those issues in hopes of expanding on a very different gender gap: their advantage with female voters at the polls.