- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Democrats closed a so-called “parent gap” in this month’s election and should seize the moment by pushing family-friendly legislation, analysts told a Capitol Hill briefing yesterday.

Married parents — especially married mothers — have voted Republican in recent years, partly because of a perception that Democrats don’t care about family issues, said Michele Stockwell, a social policy analyst with the Progressive Policy Institute.

This month’s election results show that Democrats “closed this parent gap, at least temporarily,” she said. But the gap needs to be closed permanently by addressing families’ concerns.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, Arkansas Democrat, told those at the briefing that Democrats are up to the task, even though they need to be “a little more expressive” about it.

“Getting results is the most important thing we can do in leadership,” she said, citing employee flextime, easier access to health care, more trained health care workers in geriatrics and more Internet safety tools to protect children as important legislative goals.

Some family advocates, however, expressed dismay at the lack of attention to family issues in Democratic platforms. For instance, the House Democrats’ “Six for ‘06” agenda laid out goals for changing Iraq policy, raising the minimum wage, making college tuition a permanent tax deduction, lowering gas prices, promoting stem-cell research and blocking partial privatization of Social Security.

But expanded paid sick leave for workers? A Democratic Senate staffer recently said an issue like that wouldn’t be considered for “several years,” said one audience member.

Pollster Anna Greenberg of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner told the Progressive Policy Institute event that the war in Iraq and the economy were voters’ top issues, but political leaders — especially the new Democratic majority — shouldn’t let those issues obscure the “underlying discontent” that most voters feel about their personal finances.

Polls find that “the biggest source of stress is work [and] the biggest source of stress about work is how much you make,” said Ms. Greenberg, adding that both low-income and middle-income families are feeling “squeezed” as expenses outstrip incomes.

In many households, both parents are working to get ahead, but this only feeds into another huge concern, which is “not having enough time with their kids,” Ms. Greenberg said.

“And this is not just the problem of married parents,” she added. “This is the No. 1 concern of single parents, especially single moms. They are the least likely to feel they have control over what their kids are doing.”

Democrats have a huge opportunity to act on these issues, especially by working with Republicans and finding common ground, said Shelley Waters Boots, a policy leader at the Parents Action for Children, a parents’ advocacy group founded by actor-director Rob Reiner.

These “shouldn’t be one-party issues,” she said. “These issues are ripe for the taking.”

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