On Saturday, more than four million people participated in the Women’s March on Washington and its sister marches across the nation and around the globe. Marches were held in every state and on every continent. The mass mobilization was the opening salvo against a misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, dangerous new president and Republican Congress.
Women conceived and led the march, the biggest organized protest of President Donald Trump’s presidency so far. That was for a good and obvious reason. Our new President is a sexual predator. He is the most prominent face of the longstanding GOP war on women.
This war has many battlefields. Some involve issues long associated with women’s rights – but are, or at least should be, important to everyone. These include reproductive freedom and choice, equal pay for equal work, freedom from sexual harassment and assault, paid family leave, and safe, affordable, quality day care.
Other battlefields in this war involve issues that are not generally associated with women, but should be. These include civil and human rights, environmental protection, and economic justice. As the Values and Principles statement of the Women’s March succinctly states, Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights. Gender Justice is Racial Justice is Economic Justice.
Economic security in old age is a key battlefield in the Republican war on women. Women, on average, live longer than men. Women are more likely to work in jobs that pay less in both current compensation and in retirement and health benefits. And women take more time out of the paid workforce to care for children and aged relatives. As a result, women, on average, spend more years in old age with fewer resources. Even women who are financially secure at younger ages as a result of marriage can find themselves widowed and destitute in old age. Women who are married to other women are especially vulnerable to insecurity in old age.
Women aged 65 or older are eighty percent more likely to be impoverished in retirement than their male counterparts. The primary – and often, only – financial protections women have in old age are Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Women constitute fifty-four percent of Social Security beneficiaries, fifty-five percent of Medicare beneficiaries, and fifty-eight percent of Medicaid beneficiaries. Indeed, women constitute nearly two-thirds of Social Security beneficiaries over age 85. More than seventy percent of nursing home residents are women. And Medicaid pays nearly two thirds of long-term care costs.
And, for women who are not yet age 65, the Affordable Care Act can mean the difference between obtaining health care and not, which can mean the difference between life-saving treatment and death. Women are more dependent than their male counterparts on the Act’s health exchanges because women, as a group, have less access to employer-sponsored health care. Moreover, prior to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, private insurers could charge women much more than men for the same health care coverage – and they generally did. The Affordable Care Act put quality, affordable health care within reach for many more women.
Consequently, Republican attacks on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act are attacks on women.
Republicans are wasting no time in advancing on this front in the war on women. The new Administration and the Republican-controlled Congress have already taken steps to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which provides subsidies and limits insurance companies charging women whatever they choose. Even before the new government completes its repeal, the Trump administration can – and likely will – cut back or even eliminate the requirement that insurance plans provide contraception without co-pays, deductibles, or other out-of-pocket costs. That right was provided through regulation, and so can be taken away without Congressional action.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has announced his plan to dismantle Medicare this year. He also has made clear that he plans to gut Medicaid. The Republicans have learned to be quieter about their plan of attack against Social Security, having been burned in 2005 in their effort to privatize and end Social Security as we know it. Like today, the Republicans, in 2005, controlled the White House and Congress, but, unlike today, President Bush toured the nation in an effort to sell his proposal. This time, Trump himself is not calling attention to the destructive goal. But don’t be fooled by his silence.
During the campaign, Trump criticized Ryan and other Republican leaders for their plans to cut Social Security, as well as Medicare and Medicaid. This break from Republican orthodoxy likely played a large role in Trump’s victories in both the primary and general elections. However, now that Trump has assumed the Presidency, he appears poised to break his promise to the American people.
The powerful Chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee has introduced legislation that would end Social Security as we know it. The formidable Chairman of the House Budget Committee has proposed budget procedures which would essentially require the future gutting of Social Security, as well as Medicare and Medicaid. On the very first day of this new Congress, the Republican House adopted a rule signaling its intent to pursue those budget changes. And, if that isn’t enough, some are proposing a fast-track commission to force the dismantling of Social Security while shielding Republicans from political accountability.
Tweet-happy as he is, Trump knows how to criticize and make those criticisms newsworthy and known. If he disagreed with Republicans in Congress, we would know about it. He hasn’t said a word about Republican plans to destroy Social Security and Medicare. (He has spoken approvingly, though in coded language, of dismantling Medicaid, as part of his replacement for Obamacare but those comments have gone largely unreported.) Trump’s complete silence on Social Security and Medicare, and his near silence on Medicaid, is deafening.
Moreover, Trump’s actions since the election reinforce the view that his campaign promises were mere rhetoric. That powerful Chairman of the House Budget Committee, who wants to dismantle Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act? He may be about to become even more powerful and even more central in the crusade to destroy these programs. That Chairman is Representative Tom Price (R-GA). Trump has nominated Price to be his Secretary of Health and Human Services,. In that key position, Price will have control over Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act. On top of that, he will be a trustee of Social Security. Talk about a fox in charge of the hen house!
If Trump and his Republican Congress succeed in destroying Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, all of us will be more economically insecure, but women will be hurt disproportionately. Those who participated in the Women’s March on Washington and its sister marches, those who supported the march, and those who didn’t but do support Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, must remain vigilant and informed to ensure that Trump and his Republican elites do not succeed.
But we should do more. The Women’s March was about much more than resistance. It was a call to positive action. The march, and the movement it represents, was in support of the rights and wellbeing of women, men, and those who don’t identify with that binary classification.
Social Security and Medicare are overwhelmingly popular, enormously successful government programs that are crucial to virtually everyone’s economic security. As long as you and your family are dependent on wages, you need insurance against the loss of those wages in the event of disability, old age, or premature death, leaving dependent children. And no one can be economically secure if they are one accident or illness away from bankruptcy. It is time to build on their success, expand Social Security, and extend Medicare to everyone.
If a galvanized American public succeeds in expanding Social Security and Medicare, we will have done so much more than halting the war on women’s economic security. Together, we will have improved the economic security of all of us. That is a battle worth fighting and winning.
Nancy J. Altman is founding co-director of Social Security Works. Join SSW in telling Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell to keep their hands off the American people’s earned Social Security and Medicare benefits.