Women's issues: Candidates' positions reflect their politics

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 31, 2008 

WASHINGTON — Female voters in 2008 are looking harder at what traditionally have been considered women's issues — abortion, pay equity, health care — and where John McCain and Barack Obama stand on those issues, not surprisingly, reflects their political philosophies.

McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, are running as anti-abortion, pro-family, anti-tax conservatives who oppose same-sex marriage.

Obama and his running mate, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, vow to preserve abortion rights, end pay discrimination and improve women's access to health insurance and health care.

McCain opposed an expansion of the family and medical leave law to include small businesses, while Obama supported it.

He also opposed the so-called Lily Ledbetter bill, although he didn't vote on it because he was campaigning, and Obama supported it. The bill, named for an Alabama woman, would expand the ability to sue for pay discrimination. Ledbetter sued when she found out about the pay disparities with her male co-workers, but the Supreme Court ruled that she should've sued within the six months of receiving her first discriminatory paycheck.

Campaigning in July, Obama said that McCain "thinks the Supreme Court got it right last year when they handed down the Ledbetter decision that makes it more difficult for women to challenge pay discrimination at work," Obama said. "He opposed legislation that I co-sponsored to reverse that decision. He suggested that the reason women don't have equal pay isn't discrimination on the job — it's because they need more education and training."

Asked what policies he'd pursue to eliminate income inequality, McCain responded:

"I don't have a specific policy at the moment, except to — again, I think my support of small business and the fact that I will not raise people's taxes. One of the greatest areas of participation of women in America is small business. And they are larger and larger numbers who are small business owners. I will focus my attention on doing everything I can to see that they succeed."

On abortion, both candidates have clear, long-held positions. Obama has a 100 percent pro-abortion rights voting record with the National Abortion Rights Action League, while McCain's record is nearly zero.

"I have consistently advocated for reproductive choice and will make preserving women's rights under Roe v. Wade a priority as president," Obama said early in the campaign.

McCain has criticized Obama for insisting that measures to restrict late-term abortions include exceptions for women's health. Obama has opposed such measures because they lacked the health provision.

McCain said in August, "I have a 25-year pro-life record in the Congress, in the Senate. And as president of the United States, I will be a pro-life president, and this presidency will have pro-life policies. That's my commitment, that's my commitment to you."

Health-care policy also divides the two candidates, with Obama relying on government for his plan and the Republican relying on taxes and the free market.

Obama's plan is based on "managed competition," which, he said, "would create a national health insurance exchange, much like a stock exchange, that would serve as a clearinghouse providing information to employers and individuals to evaluate different available plans for the insured."

As he did in his infomercial Wednesday night, Obama often speaks of the personal toll that the health-care system took in his life. "My mother died of ovarian cancer at the age of 53, and I'll never forget how she spent the final months of her life lying in a hospital bed, fighting with her insurance company because they claimed that her cancer was a pre-existing condition and didn't want to pay for treatment," he said.

Obama advocates ending discrimination for pre-existing conditions in his plan.

Obama's plan also would mandate coverage for children, in what Republicans have decried as the heavy hand of government intervention.

McCain would give every family a $5,000 tax credit to buy its own health insurance or keep its current plan. "And we will open up the national health care market to expand choices and improve quality," he said in a recent radio address. McCain would give individuals a $2,500 tax credit.

"Senator Obama wants to set up health-care bureaucracies, take over the health care of America — as he said, his objective is a single-payer system," McCain said of Obama's plan during the Oct. 15 debate. "You'll have to pay a fine if you don't provide health insurance that Sen. Obama mandates, not the kind that you think is best for your family, your children, your employees, but the kind that he mandates for you. That's big government at its best."

Obama denied that there'd be such a fine.

McCain's plan relies on taxes, with a credit that would go to insurers. Obama criticized McCain for the proposed new taxation of the value of employer-provided health insurance.

On children's education, Obama proposes a new program of early learning challenge grants, which would provide states with funding to support child care, early education, and other services for pregnant women and children from birth through age five.

McCain proposes increasing the child exemption on personal income tax to give families more income to pay for early education programs.

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