Toward the end of his press conference Tuesday, President Reagan was asked whether his all-male commission on Central America might add to the perception that he is "insensitive" to women. He seized the opportunity to point with pride to what he thinks his administration has accomplished for women, and then he announced that "so much" has been done in "appointing" women that "we're no longer seeking a token or something."
Can it truly be that there are no American women experts on Central America, and that a female on the commission (or perish the thought, several women) would have been mere tokens?
The fact of the matter is that the president has once again created a commission to keep us out of war that is staffed exclusively with men. The voices and perceptions of women, who make up 53 percent of the population and who give birth to the soldiers who get killed in wars, are simply not going to be heard. Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) points out that this commission is not an isolated case of the foreign policy men's club at work. The Scowcroft Commission, which was asked to develop policy on the MX missiles, also had no women members.
Beyond that, the president delivered such a rosy account of his administration's accomplishments that one might wonder what all the fuss among women's groups is about.
He claimed that, as a result of an administration measure, housewives can now get Individual Retirement Accounts. They cannot.
He claimed his tax policies reduced the marriage penalty tax. Reform of the marriage penalty tax was pushed by Sen. Charles McC. Mathias (R-Md.) and former representative Millicent Fenwick (R-N.J.) and had been a project of the House Ways and Means Committee since 1976. The administration didn't oppose the marriage tax reform that occurred in 1981, but it hardly initiated it.
"We have almost doubled the tax credit for child care," President Reagan claimed. Not true, either. The tax credit for child care had allowed parents to claim as a tax credit 20 percent of any amount up to $2,000 spent for child care for one child and up to $4,000 for two children. In 1981, Rep. Barber Conable (R-N.Y.), the ranking minority member of the House Ways and Means Committee, introduced a bill that would have increased this on a sliding scale to benefit low-income parents. The Democrats introduced a bill to increase the amount of expenses that can be counted for the tax credit to $2,400 for one child and $4,800 for two.
The Republican tax bill that was substituted for the Democratic bill contained no child-care provisions.
Improvements in the credits did not come until a bipartisan effort in the Senate amended the tax bill on the floor to provide for a sliding scale of up to 30 percent and the new maximums the Democrats had favored. This was ultimately agreed upon by House and Senate conferees. Nothing got doubled, or even close to it, and certainly not through any administration push.
Then the president pointed with pride to his record in appointing women, claiming that his administration has appointed "over a thousand women in executive positions . . . It's just our record isn't known."
Comparing appointments is tricky. For one thing, President Carter had an opportunity to appoint 152 new judges, which President Reagan has not had. Comparisons depend, too, on whether one includes only full-time jobs that require Senate confirmation, or the hundreds of full and part-time appointments to boards and commissions.
However, even if one includes all of these, President Reagan's claim that he has appointed more than 1,000 women to executive positions is not borne out by data the White House submitted to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. Of 2,708 full and part-time appointments made as of March 31, 1983, only 14.3 percent, or about 380, had gone to women.
President Reagan said reports were misleading when they compared his midterm record with Carter's four-year record. Carter White House figures, however, showed that by the end of his third year in office, 22 percent of his 2,100 appointees were women.
More significantly, President Reagan has not built upon Carter's record. He was not able to tell the American people on television that he advanced the Carter effort from 22 percent to, say, 32 percent female appointments, which would have set a new standard and demonstrated a long-term national commitment within the presidency to equality and the sharing of power.
That would have been something to be truly proud of.