by Diana Furchgott-Roth

Stand up, be heard and do things for yourself is the message

Forget the feminists’ War on Women.

This week marks the launch of Lean Together, a 221-page book that presents an economic agenda for women’s advancement. It is the brainchild of the Independent Women’s Forum, a free-market alternative to the National Organization for Women. I am the author of a chapter on job creation, the first of 12 chapters written by 10 authors on subjects ranging from taxes to health care to entitlements.

At the book launch in New York on Wednesday, Hadley Heath Manning, IWF’s director of health policy, said: “The government is telling women that they are not capable of making a wide range of decisions, from choosing their health plans to choosing their children’s lunches to choosing their work hours.”

In contrast, traditional feminist organizations such as NOW call for the government to do more for women, irrespective of the ensuing higher taxes and unintended consequences. NOW wants Uncle Sam to provide free birth control and child care, and they even want you to stop supporting businesses and nonprofits that have lawsuits against the Affordable Care Act.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research wants to make it impossible for low-skilled women to find jobs by raising the minimum wage and requiring companies to offer paid maternity and sick leave. The American Association of University Women and the National Committee on Pay Equity call for passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, a misguided bill that would insert government into the hiring and pay decisions of practically every company in America. Code Pink supported the Occupy Wall Street movement, whose economic reforms in the name of faux social justice would have ground the American economy to a halt.

Many government poverty-alleviation programs have fostered dependence on government.
Patrice Lee, IWF senior fellow

Carrie Lukas, IWF’s managing director, explained: “The book is called Lean Together because we want to encourage people to do things for themselves.”

Here are four pillars of the Lean Together agenda.

Lower taxes and spending: Women control 75% of family spending, and they know what it is like to manage a budget. Heritage fellow Romina Boccia writes: “American families strive to be responsible with their family budget, paying down their debts and setting aside savings for rainy days, their children’s college and their own retirement. They have a rightful expectation that their elected representatives will emulate them in the public realm.”

Young people are now inheriting an economy with increasing levels of debt that will have to be paid for with higher taxes. This means reforming entitlements programs and the tax code, streamlining spending, and controlling the debt. IWF suggests a flat tax, a balanced budget amendment, and a requirement that Congress spend one dollar less each year.

Health reform: IWF wants health insurance that you can customize, similar to how you can customize your smartphone. Insurance policies that women can keep when they move or change jobs (as they do more frequently than men). Insurance policies that tell you ahead of time how much you will have to pay for services and prescriptions. Prices that go down instead of up. And, of course, insurance that doesn’t drop you when you get sick. That’s very different from old-time feminists’ big test for health insurance: the guarantee of free birth control and abortions.

Manning, the author of the health chapter, suggests getting there through equalizing the tax treatment of employer and individual insurance, capping or eliminating the tax break for employer-provided health plans and giving everyone a tax credit to buy insurance. Plus, people should be allowed to purchase plans across state lines. This would give companies an incentive to offer more plans and a broader choice.

Those with pre-existing conditions would get special financing through state “high-risk pools,” and states would receive block grants to help low-income residents purchase health insurance.

Child care and pre-school: Feminist organizations have always been vociferous in their demand for government-provided child care and pre-school. No matter that a 2012 Department of Health and Human Services study found that Head Start, a program to educate young children from poor backgrounds, had no measurable effect on children’s achievement by the end of third grade.

Families with children under 5 pay an average of $9,300 a year on child care. This is a hefty sum. However, rather than free government-funded child care, Lean Together proposes expanding existing vehicles such as the Child Care Tax Credit (now capped at $3,000 per child and $6,000 per family) and flexible savings accounts (now limited to $5,000 per family). That would allow parents to have greater choice over their children’s care, and encourage more providers to offer different types of care, such as an early focus on language immersion, sports, or art and music.

Welfare reform: Patrice Hill, senior fellow at IWF and author of the welfare-reform chapter, describes welfare as a “sticky web” with incentives that trap people, the majority of them women, into continued acceptance of government entitlements. She is alarmed that “many government poverty-alleviation programs have fostered dependence on government and discouraged family-formation and the acquiring of education and work experience that are crucial to long-term independence.”

The government spent $80 billion on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps) in 2013, up from $17 billion in 2000, with 47 million people enrolled in the program.

In 2012, the work requirements for the Temporary Aid to Needy Families program were diluted, so that only 2% of recipients need to work. Lean Together suggests reinstating these work requirements and adding work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. In addition, SNAP spending should be capped, and each state should be given a block grant that would adjust for no more than inflation. Recipients of all welfare programs should receive regular drug tests so that taxpayer dollars do not support a drug habit. In that way, welfare would become a path to independence, rather than a dependency trap.

This worked in New York City. Under welfare commissioner Robert Doar, now an American Enterprise Institute scholar, people had to work in order to get welfare. The number of people on welfare declined from 1.1 million in 1994 to 347,000 in 2013.

Admittedly, these proposals have no chance of passage in today’s Congress. But with an election approaching, this might change. Women deserve a better agenda than the one presented by feminist organizations. Although these organizations say women are equal to men, their policy prescriptions offer the same message: Women cannot be trusted and need the government to take care of them. The Independent Women’s Forum wants to give women control over their own lives. That would be real equality.