House Republicans unveiled the new Women's Policy Committee last week. The group's chair, Rep. Mary Bono Mack, says the aim of the 24 Republican lawmakers is to elevate the profile of GOP women and bring a united voice to the House Republican Conference. The congresswoman from California's 45th District recently spoke with U.S. News about why she thinks the Republican Party needs a women's caucus and what is at the top of the group's agenda. Excerpts:
What inspired this new committee?
Looking at the talent of the women I serve with. The senior members in the Republican Conference and the hard work that they have done, just like all working women and working moms. I am just so proud of them. And then when I look at the new crop of freshman women and the talent that they possess, it really inspired me to bring a group together and to unite everybody as a force and see what we could achieve.
What is the role of the committee?
To foster dialogue, to promote women in the Republican Conference, and to focus on issues of national importance.
Are GOP women underrepresented?
Yes. A while back we put together a group of about 11 [lawmakers] to do one of [political pollster] Frank Luntz's focus groups, and we sat in front of a group of 20 women and one of the women said, "You all are Republican women, we didn't even know you existed." So it was pretty clear at that point in time we needed to amplify our voices a lot more.
How do you expect to influence the GOP discussion?
We've had the opportunity to come together as a group of women to kick around ideas, concepts, and strategies. It's going to be very powerful. We've never organized as a communications team, and we've never organized as a voting bloc. I do believe that [the GOP] leadership is recognizing that sometimes there are better ways of doing business and sometimes there are better ideas, and I believe that as a group of women organized together we can present our ideas.
What would you say is the No. 1 concern for American women?
The economy. The median household income has dropped by $4,300 for the past few years. Women are the architects of the family budget, generally. And it's women who are trying to do more with less at home. And the economy is weighing heavily on their minds.
Is there a party gender gap?
No. I think the women in the Democratic Party have the same struggles as the women in our party do. And the so-called war on women is a myth. The Democrats do not have the corner on women or women's ideas or women's votes.
Will the committee attempt to rally women for the presidential election?
Well, this is an official working group, so we'll be more dedicated towards promoting policies on the floor of the House of Representatives. But naturally, since Mitt Romney's message is one of economic growth and more jobs, and that's what we're focused on, then I think the two agendas will fit nicely.
What other issues are on your agenda?
Regulatory relief, tax reform, strong national security, the budget, the debt, the deficit.
Is healthcare on the agenda?
We all believe that Obamacare is terrible for both the quality of healthcare that will be delivered to our families and the cost of healthcare to our country. None of us believe that this is going to be a good thing.