Imminent sequestration cuts will have a disproportionately negative effect on the nation's women and should be prevented, a sorority of House Democrats warned Thursday.
At a press conference heavy with figures and statistics, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and a stage full of Democratic women ticked off a long list of programs set to be affected by the $85 billion cuts, scheduled to kick in Friday.
Pelosi said the impact on women will be "specific, … substantial, and must be avoided."
"Cuts to women's health from pre-natal care to cancer screenings; cuts to services to victims of domestic violence; … cuts to initiatives to support children and families like WIC and Head Start," Pelosi said. "For the sake of America's women … Democrats and Republicans must work together to protect the middle class."
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), head of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, warned that the education, healthcare and child care programs on the chopping block will all harm women more than men. Citing a report from the National Women's Law Center, an advocacy group, DeLauro said 57 percent of public sector jobs are held by women, who will consequentially be hit hardest by cuts to public programs.
"Allowing these cuts to pass is reckless, it's irresponsible and it is especially harmful to women, to their jobs and to the services that they rely on," DeLauro said.
The warnings arrive just one day before the sequester cuts are scheduled to take effect, with both parties this week conceding their inevitability. Indeed, leaders in both the Democratically-controlled Senate and Republican-led House have done almost nothing substantial this week to avert the cuts, focusing instead on blaming the other side for an unwillingness to compromise.
House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRift widens between business groups and House GOP Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Debt ceiling games endanger US fiscal credibility — again MORE (R-Ohio) and the Republicans are arguing they fulfilled their obligation last year when they passed two bills to prevent the sequestration's defense cuts. They're blaming Senate Democrats for a failure to act now.
The Democrats are quick to note that those bills expired with the arrival of the new Congress. Pelosi on Thursday accused GOP leaders of general negligence in their approach to legislating.
"We come to Washington to be legislators," she said, "and somehow that piece is missing in what the Republicans are doing here. They're just making noise.
"Either they don't want to legislate," she added, "or they don't know how to legislate."
Complicating the debate for Republicans, many conservatives in the party support the notion of across-the-board spending cuts, even if the Pentagon is hit in the process. Complicating the Democrats' argument, there are liberals in the party who are pleased both with the sequester's defense cuts and its protection of entitlement benefits.
Pelosi on Thursday rejected the idea that Democrats support the Pentagon cuts, arguing that blunt, blind decreases to any agency, even the Defense Department, is the wrong strategy.
"It's mindless when it comes to domestic [cuts] and it's mindless when it comes to defense [cuts]," she said.
"The purpose of all of this is to reduce the deficit," she added. "Cutting these investments, does not do that."
Pelosi and other leaders from both parties are scheduled to meet with President Obama on Friday at the White House in an attempt to break the impasse. No one thinks the gathering will result in an immediate breakthrough, but the lawmakers have some cushion, as even Democrats are now conceding that the impact of the cuts on jobs and the economy will take some weeks to be realized.
"Frankly, nobody ought to expect, on March 2, for the world to fall apart, and by that, I mean simply that the adverse consequences will happen over a time frame," Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip, told reporters earlier this week. "I don't think it will be a long time frame, but nobody ought to feel that you are coming off the cliff as we used to talk about."