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30-Something Working Group Celebrate Women's History Month

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Location: Washington, DC


30-SOMETHING WORKING GROUP CELEBRATE WOMEN'S HISTORY MONTH -- (House of Representatives - March 08, 2006)

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Mr. Speaker, first I want to take this opportunity to thank House Democratic Leader NANCY PELOSI for the opportunity for the 30-Something Working Group to talk for an hour about the things that we know are important to our generation, and also to explain and discuss our views on our generation's perspective on a lot of the issues that are important and facing Americans today.

Tonight I am really pleased to be joined during Women's History Month by two of my distinguished colleagues who are also members of Leader Pelosi's 30-Something Working Group, Congresswoman STEPHANIE HERSETH from the great State of South Dakota and Congresswoman LINDA SÁNCHEZ of California. The three of us make up a very unique body in this group. We are three of only four women younger than 40 years old in the United States House of Representatives.

We are here this evening to celebrate Women's History Month, to remember those who have contributed to our progress, to recognize the women of our generation who are changing communities today, and to highlight the challenges that many women under 40 face as a result of the flawed and failed policies of the Bush administration.

This year's theme, Mr. Speaker, for Women's History Month is Women: Builders of Communities and Dreams. This theme speaks to the legacy that women leaders have built over the generations.

Mr. Speaker, as advanced and progressive as America has been on issues improving the lives of women, our country continues to lag far behind in terms of policies to assist women in their struggle to lead or achieve.

Today women represent more than half the population and are among the most knowledgeable and important thinkers in every field of policy, from science to education, to health care and national security.

As the mother of two young daughters, it is so important to me to see that strong women walk in all walks of life, and I want them to see strong women in all walks of life, particularly so that we can see that those women join our ranks here as policymakers.

I want them to understand that from Title IX to the Equal Pay Act, that they are standing on the shoulders, as we do here, of the courageous women who went before them.

None of the three of us would have had the opportunity that we did at our stage in life without our colleagues who came before us in this body, without their shoulders to stand on, and I want them and other young women and girls to have the same opportunities that we have been given.

Unfortunately, the President apparently does not share those same views because in his 2007 budget proposal he slashes programs established to give young working mothers a leg up, like Medicare, Medicaid, housing, food stamps and child care. He cuts programs aimed at preventing domestic violence and programs that provide domestic violence victims with housing and legal assistance.

I am saddened to say that domestic violence affects far too many women, and an even growing number of young women. Forty percent, Mr. Speaker, of teenage girls ages 14 to 17 report knowing someone their age that has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend, and 26 percent of girls in grades 9 through 12 have been the victim of abuse.

So tonight we are here because training, education, and employment statistics clearly indicate that women still face barriers in pursuing traditionally male-dominated fields. For instance, while the number of women pursuing degrees in higher education has increased dramatically, the rates of women pursuing engineering degrees lags far behind. Recent data shows that women account for only small percentages of students earning engineering degrees, including only 20 percent of bachelor's degrees, 21 percent of master's degrees, and only 17 percent of Ph.Ds.

We are here, Mr. Speaker, because the Republicans' prescription drug plan is a particularly bad deal for America's women. Women are frustrated and confused, Mr. Speaker. And if you think government health and prescription drug care is only for the aged, you should know that 63 percent of Medicaid beneficiaries were between the ages of 18 and 44 in 2001, and 37 percent of women ages 18 to 44 report that they use at least one prescription drug on a regular basis. Those are not senior citizen statistics.

We are here tonight because 36 percent of the 9.4 million women in executive, administrative, and managerial occupations are under 44 years old, and, on average, women are still making about 76 cents for every dollar that a man makes.

We are here because opponents of the Family and Medical Leave Act are working to hamstring that program, even though it is in its 12th successful year, and more than 50 million Americans have displayed their enthusiastic support by taking job protective leave to care for a new baby, a seriously ill family member, or to recuperate from their own serious illness. And the gentlewoman from California (Ms. SÁNCHEZ) is going to be covering how the administration's policies have impacted working women and working families in particular.

And we are here because there are not too many of us to speak up, and we must make our voices heard. There are 26 men under 40 serving in the United States Congress, Mr. Speaker. They have several voices. More than several. We are here because if we do not stay late on this floor, if we do not stand up and try to make a difference on behalf of young women and young families and bring these issues that are important to them to the table, the three of us together, 3 versus 26, then who will? That is the question that we would like to answer tonight.

I am happy to yield now to my good friend, the gentlewoman from California.

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Mr. Speaker, as Ms. Herseth was talking, I was struck by our diversity. Our commonality is we are all under 40, but literally we represent the East, Midwest and west coast of our country, California, South Dakota, and Florida. We also represent a very different ethnic and cultural diversity. We have a Midwesterner, a nice Jewish girl from the suburbs, and we have a Latina from the West Coast. You could not have more diversity than what is standing in this Chamber this evening.

What is wonderful about that is that is what the Democratic Party is all about. We are the embodiment of the Democratic Party. We are the embodiment of what Democrats represent and stand for. It is not just amazing that we had the opportunity at the age we were when we each got involved, but it is, I think, particularly notable that we had that opportunity because of the opportunities that Democrats try to provide in terms of diversity. I think if we were attempting to get involved at the point we did in our lives and we were Republicans, it would have been a very different experience and perhaps some very shiny glass ceilings, as you referred to.

I was 25 when I started running for the Florida House of Representatives. I would imagine that in South Dakota it is probably that you have to be fifth-generation South Dakotan before you would think about running for public office, certainly running for Congress. I had only lived in my community for 3 years when I decided to run for the State House of Representatives. For me, that was no different than anyone else who lives in my community. If you are from south Florida now, you certainly are not from south Florida since birth.

The reason I was able to contemplate the possibility of running was because we have had so many of the women we serve with here really provide us their shoulders to stand on because they fought in the 1970s and even some in the 1960s to make it possible for women to bust through that glass ceiling; that I was able to even think about running for office when I was 25, just married a year, my husband and I had just bought our first house. We knew we wanted to have kids. I was raised to believe my parents at dinner table conversation, I would not have to choose. A woman could be a good mom, have a solid marriage and be a hardworking professional, and do all of those things well.

So the generation before us of women, because they made that possible, because they strove to accomplish that, it made it almost if not a no-brainer. It made it so much more reasonable for someone, for people like us to step up when we were presented with the opportunity. I was able to seize that opportunity when the seat opened up in the State legislature for me because so many women had paved the way before.

The experience I had in my race for Congress was so disheartening. I was successful obviously because I am standing here, but I actually had to deal with an opponent who spent the whole election, and this is Women's History Month, we are in 2006, and she spent the whole election saying that I was a bad mother. She spent the entire election saying she was 20 years older than me and had waited until her children were grown before she thought about running, and basically I had some nerve running with young children. I have twin 6-year-olds, a boy and a girl, and a 2 1/2 -year-old baby girl.

I ran for them. I ran so I could show my little girls that there are so many things that are important

that we do here, and that it is imperative that our perspective, our generation's perspective and the perspective of young moms and young women are here in this Chamber.

We deal with issues that I know we would not deal with if not for young women's presence here; women, period.

But the statistic that strikes me is that in history, and I am a freshman, I am the least senior of the three of us, what I learned when I came here, and I know they probably told you this, too, when you came for your orientation, but we have had just under 12,000 people in American history serve in the United States Congress, and of those we literally have had just over 200 women out of 12,000 people.

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Absolutely. The thing that I learned that shocked me given that I am from Florida and we have the third highest Jewish population in my community in the country, I am the first Jewish woman to ever represent the State of Florida in the Congress. Our first U.S. Senator to ever represent Florida ever was actually a Jewish man, and that was back in the 1800s when Florida joined the Union. And it took until 2004 for Congress to send a Jewish woman to Congress.

The expression we have come a long way but we have a long way to go is an accurate one. We have so much that we can talk about. I think that the thing that I want to highlight is that we have issues that are important to women and families that would not get addressed if we were not here in the numbers we are here.

Child care, subsidized child care in particular. I was shocked last year when I learned in the President's budget that he put forward last year that he actually proposed a drastic cut in the number of subsidized child care slots that we would fund. We are talking about how it is possible for us to stand on the shoulders of other women and even think about running. We are talking about service in the House of Representatives. It simply is not possible for women to work who are moms, especially single moms, if they do not have the ability to have their children cared for and well cared for. So for each successive budget that I have seen, yet again the President has opposed a cut in subsidized child care cuts.

It is just astonishing to me the priorities that this administration has where it seems to be more important to preserve tax cuts for the wealthiest few at all costs, and never mind the women who need health care, who only get it when they are on Medicaid; never mind young children who receive Medicaid, and that is the only source of health care; never mind moms who need to make sure that they can work and have a place to send their children for quality child care. I just do not understand where their priorities are.

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s. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. You are so right. You are choking off women's opportunities at every level. Whether we are talking about the freezing of Pell Grants, this President has proposed freezing funding for Head Start. Head Start, the place where disadvantaged kids, kids who it has been proven in study after study get their opportunity to succeed in school in a Head Start program, 19,000 kids would lose their opportunity to participate in Head Start.

Ms. LINDA T. SÁNCHEZ of California. May I mention that my older sister, who was the older of the two to be elected to Congress, was a Head Start child. That program helped her become prepared for school, and helped my mother understand an education system that was totally foreign to her.

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. We come from three totally different kinds of communities. Like you in your community, I get stopped in the supermarket, I get stopped at my son's soccer games, at dance class, you name it. And the community I live in happens to be one that is sort of middle to upper middle-class, and it doesn't matter whether I am in the poorer section of my district or the wealthiest section of my district, people are scratching their heads. Their confidence in their government under this Republican leadership has been so badly shaken because of the corruption and the cronyism and the tax cuts and the priorities being totally wrong.

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. It is so sad how we literally now have reached the point in history where every person that you talk to can name a woman that they know that has touched their lives in some way that has fallen victim to breast cancer. One of my close friends, 42 years old, a mom of twin 5-year-olds, just passed away in December, also killed by breast cancer.

You know what is the most frustrating thing, is that we have only just in recent years been able to get NIH funding for women-specific disease study, and yet the President has now proposed a cut in funding for every institute in the NIH.

How are we going to reverse the trend in breast cancer? Breast cancer is not even the leading cause of death in women in this country. It is heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death. We only just accomplished having women-specific studies in that area.

Again, the priorities are just startling.

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Our colleague ROSA DELAURO from Connecticut has introduced legislation in the area of breast cancer that we still cannot get brought to this floor that would deal with drive-through mastectomies. You have women in this country now who, after having their breasts removed as a result of breast cancer surgery, are forced out of the hospital by their insurance company in 24 hours and less after a radical mastectomy, regardless of what their doctor thinks.

What Congresswoman DeLauro's legislation would do is it would ensure that it is the doctor, in consultation with the patient, that would decide what the appropriate length of stay is. That is legislation I worked on in Florida, and it is one that we should apply nationally. Yet we cannot get a hearing, even a hearing, on that bill under the Republican leadership in this Congress.

That is why it is so important. Listen, I will say this straight out. It is not just important that we have women serving in Congress; it is important that we have women who share the priorities of most women in America, who are willing to come here to the Congress and stand up for the things that we care about.

There is no point in having a woman here if she is just going to vote just like men have for generations, really, because why elect a woman then? We have got to make sure that we make progress, that we go forward. This leadership is not taking us forward. They are not taking us forward by any measure.

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. I couldn't agree with you more.

We have been joined by a special member of the Women's Caucus, especially the Democratic Women's Caucus, for us someone who needs no introduction. But the gentlewoman from California has made history by becoming the first woman to lead either party's caucus in the United States House of Representatives. When she was elected as Democratic Leader, she broke glass ceilings that no woman thought was possible. We are so proud to have you join us for our special women's 30-something hour.

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Thank you so much for joining us. Normally when we do our 30-Something hour, Madam Leader, we thank you in absentia for the opportunity to spend the time during this hour talking about the things that are a priority to our generation. So it is a privilege to be able to personally thank you for this opportunity that you give us each night. It is an honor to serve under your leadership.

Ms. PELOSI. Well, I appreciate you saying that, because what we are about here is the future. Everything we do should be about are we honoring our responsibility to make the future better for the next generation? That has been the tradition in America from our Founders until the present. And I hope that we can prevail in this fight to make the future better for the next generation. We owe it to our children. We owe it to the next generation.

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Madam Leader, the way we close our time usually with the 30-Something Working Group is by plugging our Web site, www.housedemocrats.gov/30somethings. We encourage our colleagues and anyone who cares to sign on to that. We have a lot of charts and interesting facts and figures that are important to the next generation.

I want to thank my colleagues from California and South Dakota for joining me tonight and welcome you back any time because we are here every night.

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