Women Hold G.O.P. Senate Seats, but Little Influence - The New York Times


Republicans currently control the health care debate through a process that excludes Democrats in both houses of Congress, and in that equation, women lose power. (Republicans need no Democrats to pass a health care bill in the Senate.) Women make up about a third of the Democratic caucus in Congress, while Republican women make up 10 percent of theirs. Among the 21 female senators, five are Republicans. The party lost ground last year when Senator Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican, fell to Maggie Hassan, a Democrat.



One result is far fewer committee chairwomen than when Democrats controlled the Senate and women ran several powerful committees.

Only Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, heads a standing committee, Energy and Natural Resources, while Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine - as a health care expert the most notable woman left off Mr. McConnell's health care team - is chairwoman of the Special Committee on Aging.

While the highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee is a woman - Dianne Feinstein of California - not a single Republican woman has ever served on the committee.

"What we are seeing now in stark relief is the tremendous disparity between the number of women serving in the two parties," said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. "Women are so underrepresented in the Republican conference that with Republicans controlling Congress, their numbers are so paltry they don't register in that power hierarchy."

Senate women pointed out that Senate leaders did not need to yield to seniority or critical mass, however, to pick members for the health care group. "The women of our conference are not afraid to have their voices heard," Ms. Collins said on Tuesday.

Ms. Collins gave a presentation on Maine's high-risk health care pools to her colleagues at a lunch on Tuesday, and is working on a Medicaid group with other women.



The exclusion of the women was so conspicuous that reporters raced to them like deer to a salt lick to question them on their feelings about being left out.

A reporter tried to talk to Senator Joni Ernst, Republican of Iowa, about the all-male panel as Ms. Ernst entered an elevator. "I do think people need to be qualified," Ms. Ernst said, but she was then intercepted by Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, who stepped in front of her and announced "I have a date" as he shielded Ms. Ernst from the reporter.

Another Republican woman excluded is Senator Shelley Moore Capito, whose home state, West Virginia, expanded Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act but is struggling with an epidemic of opioid abuse.

Democrats deplored the all-male panel. "We are going to keep pushing Senate Republicans to take a different path than the House did and sending a very clear message to the 13 Republican men currently negotiating a secret health care plan," said Senator Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat who is among the longest-serving women in the Senate. "Which I really hope isn't happening in the men's locker room."

At a meeting of the health care working group on Tuesday, Republican senators discussed the future of Medicaid and in particular how to reduce the amount of money the federal government pays to states that have expanded Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act.

Conservatives seek a rapid scaling back of the federal financial commitment, while moderate Republicans seek a slower "glide path." The federal government pays at least 90 percent of costs for people who qualify for Medicaid because of the expansion of eligibility. By contrast, the federal government paid an average of 57 percent for people who were eligible under prior law.

This year is the centennial of women in Congress, and the House historian is holding a special exhibit of oral histories. An online version of the exhibit on the first women in Congress can be found as well.