Newspaper article Roll Call

Is This the Year of the Woman Legislator?

Newspaper article Roll Call

Is This the Year of the Woman Legislator?

Article excerpt

A full two decades later, 1992 is still universally recognized as "The Year of the Woman" in the annals of congressional history. The next couple of months will decide whether 2013 should become its closest rival.

By the numbers, the suddenness of the Capitol's demographic change in the 103rd Congress remains amazing to consider. Famously fueled by the Anita Hill vs. Clarence Thomas showdown in front of an all-male Senate Judiciary Committee, more women sought and won seats in Washington than ever before in 1992. The number of female senators tripled, from two to six, and two dozen newcomers nearly doubled the ranks of women in the House.

The rosters have grown slowly but steadily ever since, to nowhere close to population parity but nonetheless to record strength: 18 percent in today's House and 20 percent in the Senate.

So far, though, those numbers haven't been matched with anything close to a commensurate amount of legislative power and influence for women at the Capitol. Except for Nancy Pelosi, who broke the glass ceiling in American government when she became the 52nd speaker, few women have held positions of real power in Congress. But this year, more than a dozen women other than Pelosi have titles and jurisdictions that will make them essential to determining how much and what kind of legislating gets accomplished.

That new reality will become crystal clear this week, when three veteran senators are positioned to claim front-page victories.

Maryland's Barbara A. Mikulski, the first woman ever handed the gavel of Senate Appropriations, will manage the floor debate on a $984 billion package that seeks to do the best for Democratic domestic priorities against the reality of the sequester, whose bottom-line cut to discretionary spending is locked in for the rest of the fiscal year. Her pragmatic approach looks like a lock to produce passage by Thursday, and when that happens, Mikulski will become the first leader of Appropriations to steer a non-emergency appropriations measure to Senate passage in 15 months.

By simply returning a modicum of regular order to one aspect of the budget process that has been almost wholly dysfunctional, the longest-serving woman in congressional history will have cemented her place as one of the year's power players. …

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