Making Washington Work for Women and Their Families

Sabrina L. Schaeffer

Benjamin Franklin famously quipped, “Nothing in this world is certain but death and taxes.” Over the past 10 years, Americans have been reminded of this adage as Washington has increased the percentage of money taxed by 0.5 percentage point. That is, from 2006 to 2016, the federal government has increased the percentage of GDP — the value of all goods and services produced — that it takes by half a percentage point. In the past five years, that number has had an even more worrisome climb at 3.1 percent.

Women tend to oversee household budgets and make many choices for their families regarding health care, education, child care, and work arrangements. They understand that tax increases — and the corresponding increase in the size of government — impinge on their freedom and make it harder for their families to succeed and find fulfillment.

This is especially true during a time of anemic economic growth when many families are suffering from stagnant wages and increasing costs of living. Women feel the way an aggressive tax system restricts their already squeezed budgets and limits their choices in some of the most critical parts of their daily lives.

To make matters worse, lawmakers in Washington often talk about helping women and their families by launching new one-size-fits-all government programs, which translate into even higher tax burdens. We know that women are best served when they can have the flexibility to make the choices that suit their individual circumstances. Washington spending can impede this freedom not only by robbing women and their families of necessary resources, but also by limiting their choices in critical areas.

A perfect example of how raising taxes interferes with women’s progress is the sweeping one-size-fits-all Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. The new health care system was sold, in part, in the name of helping women. The Obama White House argued that Obamacare would expand health coverage to millions of women and that this coverage would include new benefits. Left out of the conversation, however, was that subsidizing all of these new individuals under the new exchanges is financed by new taxes and tax increases (not to mention increases in health insurance premiums).

These revenue hikes hit middle-class Americans particularly hard by increasing taxes on over-the-counter drugs, limiting the ability to save for health care costs independently through flexible spending accounts, and reducing deductions for medical expenses. In addition, middle-class families feel the indirect economic effect of the law’s tax increases on businesses and the health sector. Of course, the real cost of these increases can be felt beyond dollars and cents: Government is also cutting off more efficient ways to expand access to better quality care and lower costs.

But health care is not the only place where we see how tax increases limit our freedom and choices and not the only place where Washington expands government and raises taxes in the name of “protecting” women. Women are presented as a victim class in need of constant government protection.

Recently, for instance, we have seen a robust effort by progressives to take care of women in the workplace through massive new proposals like the Healthy Families Act[1] or the FAMILY (Family and Medical Insurance Leave) Act.[2] While such programs are sold in the name of helping working mothers, just the opposite is the case; such dramatic expansions of government threaten to increase taxes even more while eliminating jobs, driving down wages, and reducing flexibility.

Education is yet another example of how government taxes not only take away valuable resources from women and their families, but also limit their choices. While taxes continue to rise and spending on public schools grows, test scores remain flat, and many students remain trapped in failing schools. Once again, government is costing Americans both in terms of their bank accounts and in terms of their futures.

Something that eludes Washington lawmakers is that women are not a homogeneous demographic. Their needs differ from one woman to another and change throughout their lives. In critical research at the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), we discovered important differences, for example, not just between the needs and preferences of mothers and non-mothers, but also between women of different political persuasions.[3]

That is why it is so essential to roll back Washington programs that increase taxes and limit our choices and flexibility. Instead, let’s allow more women and their families to keep more of what they earn so that they can customize their choices and pursue fulfilling lives.

Sabrina L. Schaeffer is Executive Director of the Independent Women’s Forum.


Next Up in the General Opportunity Section:

Start-Up Job Share


Endnotes

  1. H.R. 932, 114th Cong., 1st Sess., introduced February 12, 2015, https://www.congress.gov/114/bills/hr932/BILLS-114hr932ih.pdf (accessed June 3, 2026).
  2. H.R. 1439, 114th Cong., 1st Sess., introduced March 19, 2025, https://www.congress.gov/114/bills/hr1439/BILLS-114hr1439ih.pdf (accessed June 3, 2016); S. 786, 114th Cong., 1st Sess., introduced March 18, 2015, 
    https://www.congress.gov/114/bills/s786/BILLS-114s786is.pdf (accessed June 3, 2016).
  3. Independent Women’s Forum, What Do Women Want (in a Workplace)?, June 8, 2015, 
     http://pdf.iwf.org/IWF-Workplace-C2O-Final.pdf (accessed June 23, 2016).


© 2016 by The Heritage Foundation. All Rights Reserved.