Would Having More Women At The Negotiating Table Have Helped Democrats Get A Better Debt Ceiling Deal?

Our guest blogger is Madeline Meth, a press intern with the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)

Where did President Obama and the Democratic leadership go wrong? This is the question plaguing progressives following the passage of a debt-ceiling package that has been labeled, among other things, a Democratic surrender and a “ Satan sandwich.”

The principal players during the negotiations were Obama, Sens. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), and the six male senators who made up the Gang of Six (who offered their own budget plan, which Obama endorsed, right in the middle of the negotiations). But would Congress have voted on a more balanced debt ceiling plan if women had been offered a seat at the negotiating table?

Scholars of public policy, female business, political, and media leaders alike answer yes. They argue that women — whether because of biology, society, or some combination — bring a different and potentially more advantageous style to negotiations.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), whose campaign, Off the Sidelines, seeks to engage more women in the political process, suggests that women ”tend to be more results-oriented and less concerned with getting the credit.” If this is true — and scholars like Swanee Hunt the Director of the Women and Public Policy program at the Harvard Kennedy School say it is — then a debt conversation that included women may have sidelined some of the politics that distracted our lawmakers from reaching a balanced deal.

But for those who do not buy the Gillibrand argument that “the female approach is more conciliatory and less combative,” there is still reason to ask whether the debt deal being signed into law would look differently if women had played a more serious role in crafting the legislation. According to the president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), nearly half of the $2.1 trillion proposed cuts will disproportionately affect women. She explains that “the agreement will impose $1 trillion in cuts to programs such as family planning clinics, food stamps, college tuition assistance, and child care.”

Ultimately, the unbalanced nature of the debt plan is not only a result of the lack of cooperative bargaining styles, but also because the negotiators were not a representative sampling of the American people. The only woman even tangentially involved in the negotiations, House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), not only wasn’t directly connected to many of the talks, but can’t be expected to represent more than fifty percent of the U.S. by herself.

Just as the opportunity to improve the debt ceiling deal has not disappeared, neither has the chance to engage female leaders more seriously in the process. As Congress appoints members to a special congressional committee charged with finding ways to further reduce the federal deficit, it can strengthen the debt ceiling deal by taking a hammer to the glass ceiling.