The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on May 11, 1997 · Page 45
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 45

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Salina, Kansas
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Sunday, May 11, 1997
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Page 45
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Discover Wai-Marts family videos at every day law prices. \MAL*MART AUWAYS LJOW PRICES. AUNAYS WAL-MART. Chris. son of Will-Mart associate hup://www.wal iuait.com Continued from previous page That sense of practicality is one reason these women have made such an impact on Congress. A whole series of bills are now law because they have pushed and prodded the institution to respond to the needs of families. Start with voting. The gender gap is alive and well on Capitol Hill, and the proposal to ban assault weapons is a good example. The ban, sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was opposed by four out of five Republican men in the House. But three out of five Republican women supported the ban, providing the margin of victory in a very close tally. Another example: The National Institutes of Health had long ignored women's special problems, but the issue came to a head when NIH sponsored a major study of heart disease and tested only men — as if women didn't have hearts. That episode led female lawmakers to sponsor an amendment directing NIH to include women in their studies. When the bill containing the amendment came to the floor, half the men voted against it. But it passed because virtually every woman from both parties supported it. In the last Congress, a bipartisan group of women pushed through an amendment that added several billion dollars to the welfare reform bill providing day-care services for parents forced to take jobs or lose benefits. THEN THERE IS the Family and Medical Leave Act, which directs companies to give workers unpaid time off for family emergencies. Democrat Pat Schroeder came up with the idea after her second child was born and a medical problem forced her back into the hospital. "My husband, Jim, came to the hospital looking hassled," she recalls. "He kept having nightmares where he couldn't get out of the car and the kids were trapped in the back seat. I said, 'You've just become a woman!' " When Schroeder introduced the bill, she could not get a single cosponsor, and it took nine years to become law. One close ally was the OOP's Roukema, who remembered her own experience of caring for a desperately ill child: "I thought to 6 USA WEEKEND • May 8-11,1887 "When I came to Congress, I was determined not to concentrate on women's issues," says Rep. Marge Roukema, R-N.J. "But I quickly turned around." myself, 'Oh, my God, how do families cope with these things?' I knew the emotional anguish — my family had been torn apart over Todd's illness — and we were economically secure. I had to quit graduate school; I didn't have to quit a job. But suppose a family needed both incomes. It was beyond my comprehension that anybody would have to go through that." It was only the persistence of women like Schroeder and Roukema that finally brought the bill up for a vote. Only one out of five Republican men supported it, but half the GOP women joined Roukema in backing the measure. With all 35 Democratic women also behind it, the bill became law. Like many other moms in Congress, Roukema underwent a "conversion" early in her career. "I realized if people like me didn't focus on these issues, they'd be ignored." Molinari had a similar awakening: "You have to make noise about these issues. You have to become a leader, not just a follower." Mothers also are changing the nature of Congress as an institution. Democratic Rep. Ellen Tauscher, a California freshman with a 6-year-old daughter, keeps her local office open Wednesday nights and weekends to accommodate working parents. Morella installed a breast pump in her office for a staffer nursing a baby. Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio, helped organize a recent congressional retreat aimed at fostering civility across party lines. "You don't attack someone who is your friend," she explained, sounding just like the mother of a 6-year-old. Which she is. It is this perspective that gives the mothers of Congress a special sense ol continuity and obligation. McKinney describes her focus: "What kind of world will I leave to my child? That might sound high and glossy, but I'm living it every day. That's the difference." But the influence of congressional moms spreads far beyond Capitol Hill The image of working mothers making our laws and shaping our policies establishes role models for a new generation of potential leaders. "When you go to a school now," says Molinari, "and you ask how many kids want to be president, as many girls raise their hands as boys. That's the most satisfying feeling you can get." d

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