WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans foiled Democratic efforts to consider legislation aimed at assuring that women receive compensation at work equal to their male counterparts — an issue now almost sure to rise during the fall election campaign.
In a 53-44 vote, with 60 votes needed to proceed, GOP lawmakers stood in the way of Democratic plans to debate and consider the Paycheck Fairness Act, a measure that would require employers to pay men and women with similar qualifications the same wages for similar jobs. It would also allow women to file suit for punitive damages in discrimination cases and bar employers from forbidding employees to discuss their salaries among themselves.
Every Republican opposed consideration along with Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who usually sides with Democrats. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, also voted no but did so only for parliamentary reasons that allow him to bring up the bill later.
The vote marked the third time since 2010 that supporters of the bill sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) proved unable to move it through. Democrats entered the vote knowing they didn’t have sufficient backing but pushed ahead hoping the result will further erode Republican support among women voters, a voting bloc that in recent years has been problematic for the GOP.
A recent survey sponsored by the Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund and Democracy Corps found that the pay equity issue could play to the benefit of Democrats in the midterm elections. When asked to respond to the statement, “Women succeed with pay equity and equal health insurance,” 65 percent of likely women voters questioned responded favorably. More significantly, 82 percent of unmarried women – a major Democratic bloc – expressed agreement.
Census data indicates women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to the White House. But a Pew Research Center survey drew a slightly different conclusion – women earn 84 percent of what men receive. Younger women are doing even better, drawing salaries equal to 93 percent of men.
The vote came the day after what supporters termed Equal Pay Day – the number of days a woman has to work beyond the end of a year to earn the same amount of money a man earns by the end of the year. President Obama, who supported the measure, added his voice on Tuesday, signing a pair of executive orders prohibiting federal contractors from punishing workers who discuss their compensation with co-workers and requiring employers to submit information that breaks down pay scales along gender and race lines.
Republicans responded by accusing Democrats of hypocrisy, noting that a substantial pay gap exists in the White House – women earn 89 percent of what men earn at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – and within the offices of Democratic senators up for reelection in 2014.
Mikulski noted that the 77-cent pay gap figure represents an 18-cent improvement over what women earned 50 years ago, a modest increase she characterized as “pretty unjust, even un-American.”
“I don’t think we’ve come a long way with an 18-cent improvement over a 50-year period,” Mikulski said. “Give American woman not just a raised but what justice demands. We want to end that discrimination. No discrimination, no loopholes, no veil of secrecy.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) asserted that the effects of pay discrimination are “real and they are long lasting.”
“America’s women are tired of hearing that pay inequality is not real,” Warren said. “We are tired of hearing that somehow it is our fault. We are ready to fight back against pay discrimination.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) argued that the pay gap “holds back entire families — it holds back the entire American economy.”
“Today women make up more than half of America’s population and nearly half the workforce,” Gillibrand said. “Women are out-earning men in college degrees and advanced degrees and a growing share of primary household earners. But to this day men are still out-earning women for the exact same work.”