Republicans are trying to put their best foot forward with women at the convention—and, unsurprisingly, the opening days have featured numerous women speakers on center stage.
Yet more important than such optics is the policy agenda that conservatives can offer women. Republicans – including Donald Trump – should speak to women directly about how conservative policy reforms can truly help them by creating more economic opportunity, a more flexible working world, and greater financial security.
The Independent Women’s Forum’s recently released “Working for Women: A Modern Agenda for Improving Women’s Lives,” featuring more than twenty policy reforms that conservatives can advance all of which will help women without growing government.
Republicans should start by stressing the importance of breaking down barriers to job creation and making it easier for people to start businesses and enter new professions. Costly government policies — from unnecessary state licensing regimes to expensive Obamacare mandates to our complicated tax code — are making it harder for businesses to offer jobs and for people to seek employment. Trump and conservative policymakers should convey plans to remove these impediments to employment, by eliminating licensing regimes that aren’t necessary for public safety, simplifying the tax code, and rolling back employment regulations that make hiring needlessly expensive.
The Obama Administration has been moving in the other direction, which is one reason why our labor force participation rate has fallen to historic lows. This new red tape threatens to strangle sectors of the economy that have been the most innovative, including those that have created important new opportunities for women. And this is a trend Hillary Clinton would certainly continue.
For example, the Department of Labor recently moved to expand overtime pay requirements, which would force more workers to punch a clock, rather than receiving a guaranteed salary and the potential for more flexibility. The DOL also sought to limit independent contracting, which are the flexible work arrangements that allow women and men to work when, where, and how they want, which can particularly people seeking to balance work and family life, allowing them to earn money and retain vital skills, even when taking time away from full-time jobs.
Conservatives should pledge to reject such government meddling which is designed to force workers into 9-to-5 schedules and instead allow workers and businesses to utilize new work paradigms. Republicans should promise to go a step further and modernize laws like the Depression-era Fair Labor Standards Act to give workers more flexibility, including the freedom to choose more time off, rather than overtime pay, and the flexibility to consider scheduling alternatives to the 40-hour work week.
Next week at the Democrat convention, Hillary Clinton will undoubtedly offer women a flurry of new government subsidies and spending programs. Already Clinton has promised to boost federal spending on child care and to move to ensure that all workers have paid leave benefits. Conservatives typically shy away from discussing these issues: Democrats are in the position of playing Santa Clause, offering people gifts while ignoring the costs they create, which include not just taxpayer dollars, but also – when it comes to employer mandates like a paid leave benefit – reduced economic opportunities for women.
Trump and conservatives need to take these issues head on, and explain that they also want to help parents, including those struggling to pay for childcare and who need better benefits, but want to find ways to help that don’t backfire on people or create unsustainable new government entitlement programs. Tax relief for parents, particularly those with the lower incomes and the youngest children, would help families pay for childcare, but would also allow more parents who want to stay home with their children be able to afford to do so. And just as the public is encouraged to save for college expenses and retirement, conservatives can champion Personal Care Accounts, where people can save pre-tax dollars that can be used to replace income during time off eligible under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Businesses should also be encouraged, through tax benefits, to contribute to these accounts and to offer other paid-leave benefits.
Of course, the best way to ensure that workers are well-compensated and have the benefits they want and need is a growing economy that offers plentiful job opportunities. Conservatives are dedicated to realizing this vision by reducing barriers to job creation, removing complicated rules that prevent innovative, encouraging flexible work arrangements, and returning resources and control to individuals.
This is a message that Donald Trump should articulate that can appeal to women, who recognize that the economic policies of the last eight years, which would continue under Hillary Clinton – with the surge in government spending and debt, the growth of government regulation of the economy – have drained our country of opportunity and innovation, and making everyday life unaffordable for too many. Conservatives can do better, and women are waiting to hear their alternative, positive agenda for moving forward. Let’s start making that case.
Carrie Lukas is the managing director of the Independent Women’s Forum.