When I saw news clips of President Obama walking across Pennsylvania Avenue to make a much-lauded speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the first thought that came into my head was, “Well, there’s one more stake in the heart of working women.”
In terms of our stalled economy, of course it makes sense for the president to reach out to business leaders. I get it that there has to be the whole working-together, kumbaya thing to kick this recession’s butt. However, does President Obama really think that making nice to an organization that actively lobbies against the interests of working women is going to revive our economy, especially when his own advisers have told him that women are increasingly the ones putting bread on the table?
Jokes about bringing a gift of fruitcake aside, I am sure that the president is aware that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has:
— opposed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act,
— opposed the Family and Medical Leave Act, calling it a “dangerous precedent,”
— opposed the Paycheck Fairness Act,
— said it would “wage war” against paid sick leave because it would cost money and people would actually use it,
— said it’s not necessary for businesses to accommodate women employees with children because pregnancy is a voluntary choice, and
— stated that if women workers want more money, they should worry less about equal pay and focus more on choosing the right husband.
Excuse me for a minute until my head stops spinning.
Barack Obama claimed at the beginning of his presidency that he was committed to leveling the playing field for American women in the workplace. He signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act with great flourish as one of his first presidential acts, though contrary to its name, it doesn’t guarantee fair pay for anyone. It only gives employees — men and women alike — a longer period of time within which to bring a case for pay discrimination. Then, Obama created the The White House Council on Women and Girls, supposedly with the goal of producing equality where inequality existed. And while it didn’t go anywhere in 2010, Obama said he would advocate for the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act.
I’m not sure how those positions square with his new friendship with an organization stuck in a 1950’s June Cleaver world that’s dedicated millions upon millions of dollars working against the concept of equal pay for equal work. While the president — the father of girls, the husband of a professional woman, and the son of a woman who struggled to earn her Ph.D. — had the ear of so many business leaders, where was the reminder about the importance of fair pay and paid sick and maternity leave as ways to strengthen, not diminish, American businesses?
My guess is that someone left that part of the speech back in the Oval Office for one reason. I hate to say it, but with the unofficial campaign season upon us, he’s looking out for No. 1 — Obama in 2012.
Obama and his team, including the Chamber-favored White House Chief of Staff Richard Daley, clearly are aware that the Chamber of Commerce spent tens of millions of dollars against the Democrats in the 2010 mid-term elections. Many of those contributions came from large corporations that are still ticked off about efforts at Wall Street reform and that prefer it when the president mentions things like rolling back “burdensome” regulations. Money talks in Washington, no matter which side of the aisle you’re on. And while women are the majority of voters, they don’t contribute a lot of money to political campaigns.
If women who are interested in fair pay and paid-leave issues want the White House to pay more attention, it’s time to open up their political pursestrings. Sure, the president invited some women to the White House a couple of weeks ago to talk with them about the First Lady’s initiatives, health care and small business opportunities. But women voters will still have a hard time competing with one of the largest lobbyists on Capitol Hill when it comes to the big agenda items. But if women want to wield anywhere near the type of influence the Chamber of Commerce has, it’s probably time to rethink the strategy of political giving for the issues they care about.