With a record-breaking 20 women in Congress in 2012, the stage is set for an equally groundbreaking year. The group of women composed of 16 Democrats and four Republicans includes six who have been reelected to their positions and 14 who are newly elected. They come from states as far as Hawaii and California, and as central to the Senate as Maryland and New York. While some have already been making headlines after tight races and major defeats, like Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, others have been serving the Senate and quietly but firmly pushing issues through for years, like Mary Cantwell. After being elected as the first openly gay senator, male or female, Tammy Baldwin broke the glass ceiling not just for women but for LGBTQ Americans.
These women’s issues are as diverse as their backgrounds, but there is a camaraderie that comes with being a part of the largest female representation in the Senate in U.S. history. As 19 of them assembled to be interviewed by ABC News’ Diane Sawyer, one common thread was clear. If it were only up to the women of Congress, the fiscal cliff would not be perpetually kicked back and forth between parties: It would have been solved by now.
The assault weapons ban, led by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, is first and foremost on the agenda for women in Congress in 2012. Coming off of the enormity of the tragedy of Sandy Hook elementary, the weapons ban is on the minds of every political leader up to President Obama. According to Feinstein the mission is clear: “The purpose of this bill is to get ... weapons off the streets.” The bill calls for banning the sale, transfer, importation and possession of assault weapons, and further bans selling clips for more than 10 bullets. The time frame for the bill will be on the first day of the new Congress in January of 2013.
Barbara Boxer, a fellow female Senator of California, also vigorously supports this bill. She made the following statement on preventing against gun violence following the Sandy Hill massacre:
“Here is what I think we must tackle — and we can do it without violating gun rights. First, we must take weapons of war and high-capacity clips off our streets. Second, we must ensure that local law enforcement is involved in reviewing conceal and carry permits. Third, we must close the gun show loophole so background checks are conducted. Fourth, we must keep all guns out of the hands of the mentally ill – and get them the help they need. And finally, we must keep our schools safe by utilizing all of the law enforcement tools at our disposal.”
In this clear and concise plan, these senators are proposing a bi-lateral bill that crosses party lines and agendas and is backed by the president. With the recent outpouring of support for the Sandy Hook victims, as well as the backlash against the NRA, the assault weapon ban has a lot of momentum going into the new congressional year.
Another rallying cause for the women in the Senate is the Violence Against Women Act. Claire McCaskill of Missouri has garnered a lot of support around this act which is up for renewal. Republicans have been widely criticized for refusing to pass the Senate bill and insisting on removing key protections for women. The main issues that the bill addresses combating domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking, and has historically garnered wide support by law enforcement, victims' advocates and the public at large.
Gay rights issues are another key issue for women in Senate, as exemplified by Tammy Baldwin, a Democratic senator and the first openly gay female senator. She has supported “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the military. While gay rights are not on the forefront of her agenda, she will be an exemplar for gay men and women running for political office.
As the fiscal cliff approaches, one resounding voice on fiscal control belongs to Elizabeth Warren, appointed to the Senate banking committee and the former head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. As Warren stated, "America’s middle class has been squeezed hard, and there’s a lot we can do to level the playing field for families.” Warren’s victory over Scott Brown in Massachusetts was a major coup for Democrats and demonstrates the strength of her position going in to the new congress in 2013.
Mary Landrieu is another financial force to be reckoned with as she heads up the small business committee. She will be advocating for federal grant money, lower loan rates and extended time to file for assistance for small businesses affected by Hurricane Sandy. Kristen Gillibrand, the senator from New York, the area majorly affected by the hurricane, will also be advocating for Sandy relief and seeking federal aid for clean-up efforts.
Other issues on the table are insurance, taxes and energy. The Affordable Care Act, supported by Obama, is also championed by Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. Senator Deb Fischer of Nebraska seeks to lower health care costs while reducing taxes. Susan Collins of Maine favors both a small business tax credit as well as defense benefits for America’s military as well as Maine’s economy. Another vibrant state supporter is Debbie Stabenow of Michigan who heavily favor’s the treasury’s announcement to sell remaining GM stock in order to help out Detroit in the auto bailout.
While the issues are diverse, the consensus is clear: Whether it be affordable health care, taxes, or national gun control laws, these senators want to work across partisan lines to get these issues resolved. With an unprecedented number of women in the Senate and a number of issues reaching their boiling points, it should be a momentous year fo,r the women of Congress in 2013.