Obama Budget Aims at Solidifying Women’s Support

Washington – With women’s advocacy groups voicing growing unease with administration policy, President Barack Obama will propose a $3.8 trillion budget on Monday that would exempt programs for women and girls from spending restrictions he’s proposed for other programs.

Obama aides denied that political calculation was behind the emphasis on programs for women and girls, detailed in a budget document obtained by McClatchy entitled “Opportunity and Progress for Women and Girls.”

“We’re looking at a lot of significant funding increases for women’s programs in a year when the president has ordered a three-year, non-security, discretionary spending freeze,” Kate Bedingfield, a White House spokesman, said.

The document describes 15 federal programs that benefit women that would get increased funding under his spending plan. Nine of the programs are narrowly aimed at women and girls, but six are much broader initiatives that would benefit men and boys as well, including the 1.4 percent pay increase requested for the U.S. military.

Women are a key voting block for Obama. Exit polling from the 2008 election showed 56 percent of female voters cast ballots for Obama. Only 49 percent of male voters backed Obama. Women remain supportive: A Gallup poll conducted in early January found that 54 percent of women surveyed approved of Obama’s performance; only 47 percent of men said the same.

In recent weeks, however, women rights advocates have been critical of the administration, particularly after Obama’s allies in Congress agreed to limits on insurance coverage for abortion in health-care legislation passed by the House.

Women’s-rights advocates also challenged Obama’s decision to impose a spending freeze on discretionary domestic programs while continuing to increase military, intelligence and other homeland security funding.

“A domestic spending freeze would lead us in the wrong direction,” Terry O’Neill, head of the National Organization for Women, said last week after Obama’s State of the Union address to Congress.

“It would, for example, decimate funding for many battered women’s shelters at a time when the recession is causing a spike in domestic violence rates,” O’Neill said. “At the least, our swollen military budget should receive as much cost-conscious scrutiny as services for vulnerable women.”

The budget unveiled Monday would exempt those programs from the freeze.

Among the programs targeted at women are $8.1 billion in food aid for low-income pregnant women, infants and children up to 5 years old and $3.9 billion for child care and Head Start meals.

It also will increase by $10 million money set aside for family planning efforts, raising the total to $327 million, including $205 million for the prevention of teen pregnancy, the rate of which has increased after a decade of decline.

The budget also will propose spending $535 million in aid for victims of domestic violence — $117 million more than current funding, a 22 percent increase.

Obama last March issued an executive order creating the White House Council on Women and Girls. In June, he named Lynn Rosenthal as special adviser on violence against women.