The 18 commission members have been named to the National Fiscal Commission. Fait accompli. But that doesn’t mean that those of us who feel inadequately represented can’t point out the problems with the current cast. As a woman, I feel particularly invisible to this commission.
President Obama had the prerogative to name six commission members. Two of his appointees are women, Alice Rivlin and Ann Fudge. Republican Congressional leadership named six members, all male. Democratic Congressional leadership named six members, only one of whom is a woman–Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky–appointed by House Speaker Pelosi.
Does it matter? You bet it does. In purely political terms, since it takes 14 out of the 18 members to make a recommendation, there aren’t even enough women members to stop the rest of the group from making recommendations that hurt the economic interests of women.
It matters also when it comes to perspective. Women make up more than half of the population and they rely disproportionately on Social Security and Medicare. Fifty-seven percent of all Social Security beneficiaries age 62 and older are women, and 69 percent of beneficiaries age 85 and older are women. Because we tend to have lower incomes with fewer resources and more chronic conditions than men, Medicare is a crucial source of our retirement security. More than half of all Medicare beneficiaries are women; among those 85 and older, 70 percent are women.
Yet, out of 18 commission members charged with looking at ways to cut the federal deficit with a focus on programs like Social Security and Medicare, only three are women. That’s a measly 17 percent speaking for more than 50 percent of the American population.
It took a strong woman, Frances Perkins, President Roosevelt’s secretary of labor, to win the fight for social insurance programs like Social Security back in the 1930s. She took on the job of secretary of labor because, she said, “The door might not be opened to a woman again for a long, long time, and I had a kind of duty to other women to walk in and sit down on the chair that was offered, and so establish the right of others long hence and far distant in geography to sit in the high seats.”
I know there are some good men among the commission members who will watch out for the economic interests of women. But I thought that by 2010 we would be beyond the days of looking for good men to take care of us. Paternalism is passé. It’s time to let us speak for ourselves, to let more of us sit in the high seats.