Will the women in Con­gress work to­gether?

The Modesto Bee (Sunday) - - Issues & Ideas - BY KATH­LEEN PARKER

As newly elected con­gress­women are poised to color this city blue, one won­ders what ef­fect they’ll re­al­is­ti­cally have on the grid­lock known as the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

At fi­nal count, 101 women, mostly Democrats, are headed this way come Jan­uary. Will they — or can they — work with Repub­li­cans?

A pop­u­lar as­sump­tion is that women, solely by virtue of their gen­der, are some­how bet­ter equipped than their male coun­ter­parts to find so­lu­tions. But are women in 2019 re­ally so eager to form cir­cles, thrash seeds and com­mu­nally suckle our rel­a­tively in­fant-na­tion into a more-ma­ture and ef­fi­cient ver­sion of it­self?

An­other pop­u­lar (in some cir­cles) as­sump­tion coun­ters the other — that women only pre­tend to work to­gether while ac­tu­ally back­stab­bing each other to get ahead. Cat­fight­ing may be an out­dated stereo­type, but it didn’t come from nowhere.

To be­gin to an­swer th­ese ques­tions, four women — two from each party — put their heads to­gether and cre­ated a one-day, bi­par­ti­san con­fab here — the “El­e­vate” sum­mit — to dis­cuss is­sues on which women can find com­mon ground. The or­ga­niz­ers rec­og­nized that so­cial is­sues re­main di­vi­sive, but myr­iad other con­cerns pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties to work to­gether, in­clud­ing care­giv­ing, health care and work­place mat­ters.

Last week’s sum­mit, where I mod­er­ated a panel, was at­tended by lead­ers from gov­ern­ment, me­dia, in­dus­try and na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions, such as AARP. Some of the other fa­mil­iar names in­cluded fe­male ex­ec­u­tives from Face­book, John­son & John­son and Best Buy, and Su­san Spencer, ed­i­tor of Woman’s Day, the largest-cir­cu­la­tion women’s mag­a­zine in the coun­try.

On the eve of the sum­mit, a re­cep­tion of­fered a peek at a se­lec­tion of fe­male lead­ers eager to share a glass of wine and ex­change busi­ness cards. Af­ter­ward, a much smaller group, in­clud­ing sum­mit panel-

ists, mod­er­a­tors, leg­is­la­tors and busi­ness lead­ers, sat down to a din­ner of loaves and fishes to test the wa­ters for bi­par­ti­san op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“This is sort of an ex­per­i­ment,” said din­ner co­host Rachel Pear­son.

Thus, seated across the din­ner ta­ble from each other were Stephanie Schri­ock, pres­i­dent of EMILY’s List, which drafts, trains and sup­ports pro­choice women for pub­lic of­fice, and Sarah Cham­ber­lain, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Repub­li­can Main Street Part­ner­ship. As po­lit­i­cal fig­ures, they dis­agree on some is­sues, but as women, they agree on far more.

Rep. Cheri Bus­tos, DIlli­nois, broke down the woman-to-woman dy­namic with a sports anal­ogy. This is Wash­ing­ton, D.C., af­ter all. The con­gres­sional women’s soft­ball team is made up of both Democrats and Repub­li­cans. As team­mates, the girls play to­gether — and against an­other team, com­posed of Wash­ing­ton’s fe­male press corps.

On the other hand: A cor­re­spond­ing group of con­gres­sional men play against them­selves — Democrats vs. Repub­li­cans. To Bus­tos, this dif­fer­ence in their re­spec­tive ros­ters speaks loudly to the way they con­duct the na­tion’s busi­ness. Women are more nat­u­rally team play­ers; men tend to be more op­po­si­tional.

Cham­ber­lain, whose group aims to find what sub­ur­ban women care about, re­ported that from 2012 to 2017, most were concerned mainly about jobs and the econ­omy. Then, as of Jan­uary 2017, the em­pha­sis shifted to health care, es­pe­cially cov- er­age for pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tions. One can eas­ily de­duce what caused this sud­den re­fo­cus­ing of pri­or­i­ties. If the caf­feine hasn’t kicked in yet: the new pres­i­dent’s Oba­macare as­sault.

Spencer, whose mag­a­zine’s 20 mil­lion read­ers tend to live in states be­tween the coasts, echoed that health care is a top con­cern among women. Nancy Lea Mond, AARP’s ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of so­cial im­pact, spoke of the chal­lenges faced by care­givers, 60 per­cent of whom are women. Not only do women dis­pro­por­tion­ately shoul­der the bur­dens/joys of care­giv­ing (though the gap has closed sig­nif­i­cantly in re­cent years), they also of­ten lose in­come and, cor­re­spond­ingly, re­ceive lower So­cial Se­cu­rity ben­e­fits down the line.

When I pointed out that 40 per­cent of care­givers are, there­fore, men — and, wow! — I was re­minded that women also typ­i­cally take off more time for child­birth and child care, so the added care­giver role for older par­ents is yet an­other layer of non-com­pen­satory time.

To th­ese points, other mem­bers of the care­giv­ing panel that I mod­er­ated in­cluded Sens. Tammy Bald­win, D-Wisc., and Deb Fis­cher, R-Neb., both of whom have worked to mit­i­gate some of th­ese ef­fects. Fis­cher co-au­thored leg­is­la­tion as part of last year’s tax bill that ex­tended tax cred­its to busi­nesses that vol­un­tar­ily al­low em­ploy­ees up to 12 weeks of paid fam­ily leave.

Time will tell whether women are as mu­tu­ally sup­port­ive once re­al­ity sets in and they have to con­tend with their own cau­cuses. On one is­sue, mean­while, we can be cer­tain of bi­par­ti­san ac­cord. There aren’t enough re­strooms for so many women — only four stalls out­side the House cham­bers. Now there’s an is­sue on which all women can find com­mon cause.

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