Equity for women
President Reagan has repeatedly committed himself to the battle against sex discrimination in America. But he has not yet taken a strong leadership role in keeping with his party's historic dedication to this cause. He now has a fresh opportunity to do so: by giving a vigorous push to the new bipartisan Economic Equity Act.
Mr. Reagan did not seize the obvious moment for such endorsement last week. It came when Rep. Olympia Snowe of Maine led a delegation of Republican congresswomen to the White House in behalf of the recently introduced legislation. But at least the delegation was listened to by an array including the President, vice-president, and top aides Meese and Baker. And Representative Snowe was pleased by a presidential receptivity to ideas, willingness to consider the various bills in the act, and an invitation to meet again.
Offhand the economic equity package would seem a natural for a ringing send-off from Mr. Reagan even if he would seek revision of some of its parts. For one thing, it reflects his preference for achieving equal rights statute by statute rather than by constitutional amendment. For another, it deals primarily with economic matters rather than touchy social issues. Indeed, the White House notes that Mr. Reagan gave approval to economic equity items passed by the last Congress, such as permitting the division of military pensions between divorced couples and granting tax credits to working parents for day care of children.
This year's package includes a dozen bills. There have already been hearings on one of them: insurance reform prohibiting sex discrimination in rates of costs and benefits. Variances could be based on smoking, drinking, or other factors within a customer's control but not on gender any more than on race (which has been eliminated as a criterion for differing rates).
Other bills range from tax reductions for single heads of households and tax incentives for businesses hiring displaced homemakers to elimination of sex bias from federal laws. Mr. Reagan has long backed scrutiny of federal and state laws to identify sex bias. To some equal rights advocates he has the image of endlessly ''identifying'' while doing little for actual reform. Earlier this year the White House said it already had a hefty report identifying where each state stands in combating such bias. The effort to go on from identification to action was asserted to be in high gear. One goal was strengthened enforcement of child-support laws.
Child-support enforcement is also one of the aims in the Economic Equity Act. Perhaps Mr. Reagan could start by making this a mutual presidential and congressional goal - and proceed to find more and more common ground for action against sex discrimination. But action in one way or another is the key, if those congresswomen from the President's party are ever going to be able to tell their colleagues that it makes a difference to be listened to at the White House.