President Obama says he wants Washington to do some kitchen-table style budgeting. In his weekly address last week he discussed a letter from an American family and commented, “Families across this country understand what it takes to manage a budget…Well it’s time Washington acted as responsibly as our families do.”
In a lot of American homes, Mom and Dad sit together at the kitchen table to make hard decisions about what their family can or cannot afford. But in even more homes, Mom sits at the kitchen table alone, handling the family’s finances herself. In fact, the letter President Obama referenced was written by a woman – a working wife and mother preparing to take on a second job for her family’s sake.
Women know a lot about personal and family finances. They often do the household shopping and make decisions about big financial issues, such as mortgages, insurance, and childcare. So women’s perspective on the national budget would be a valuable contribution to the debate.
Unfortunately, mainstream American women seem to have little voice in Washington. In a November 2010 poll, 61 percent of female respondents said the government needs to stop spending now in order to stop increases in the national debt. These women understand that government often wastes money in a way that no woman would allow in her own family. These women understand that Washington’s “business as usual” is no longer an option and that tough choices need to be made.
But the attitudes of these women are lost in the comments made by too many groups that claim to speak for women. For example, Feminist Majority Foundation president Eleanor Smeal writes on their blog that proposed budget cuts from House Republicans “launch a new war on women,” and show “contempt for women’s programs.”
Yet most American women are likely to have a more thoughtful reaction to proposed cuts. They understand that our nation must set priorities, and that the federal government was never intended to take on all of the responsibilities it assumes today.
In many ways, the current budget debate boils down to a fundamental argument about the role of government. If the government focused on those functions described in the Constitution – establishing justice, providing for the common defense, securing our liberties, and facilitating commerce among the states – we wouldn't face a budget crisis today. The problem is that the federal government has gone way beyond those boundaries, creating many new programs and displacing the private sector in the process.