Democrats are seeking to turn Friday’s jobs report into a moment-of-truth situation for Republicans when the Paycheck Fairness Act comes up for a cloture vote on the Senate floor tomorrow.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters on a conference call this afternoon that it “will be the first test for Republicans …since last week’s jarring jobs report.”
He predicted, though, that his colleagues on the other side of the aisle would give in to “ideological voices on far right” that deny there is a wage gap, attributing the statistics trumpeted by the White House to factors such as job choice.
“They’re basically saying women choose to be paid less than men,” Schumer said. “This is as false as it is insulting.”
The legislation would require employers to demonstrate that wage gaps between men and women doing the same work have a business justification and are truly a result of factors other than gender. It would prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who share salary information with their co-workers.
The bill would require the Labor Department to enhance outreach and training efforts to work with employers in order to eliminate pay disparities and to continue to collect and disseminate wage information based on gender.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who introduced the bill more than a year ago, told reporters on the call that hers was the next bill lined up before Democrats lost their 60-vote threshold to beat back a filibuster.
“We do jobs that are dark, that are dangerous, that are dirty,” she said, noting that with the digital age men and women are increasingly in the same jobs as well. “American women are mad as hell; we are ready to fight.”
President Obama, who spoke on a separate call earlier pushing the bill but didn’t take questions from reporters, put senior advisor Valerie Jarrett on the Schumer-Mikulski call.
“We know that we’re in for a fight, but it’s a fight we can win,” Jarrett said, calling the act’s spotlight in the Senate a “potential breakthrough moment.”
Republican leadership directed reporters to a letter sent to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) from 22 business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Retail Association, opposing the bill.
“The provisions of the Paycheck Fairness Act would harm employers of all sizes, as the bill would apply to employers with as few as two employees,” the letter said. “The threat the bill poses to small business is particularly troubling given the draconian penalties found in this legislation, which include unlimited damages regardless of whether a pay discrepancy was unintentional.”
Mikulski said that her bill advanced the Lily Ledbetter act, which only addresses back pay, with her legislation that allows civil action for punitive damages.
“A number of federal laws already specifically protect employees from pay discrimination, including the Equal Pay Act, the Civil Rights Act and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act,” the business groups wrote.
Schumer contended that the bill is a “necessary ingredient for the nation’s economic recovery” and challenged Mitt Romney to speak up for the legislation, predicting that an endorsement would make the bill sail through.
“You won’t see them making any big floor speeches against the bill,” he said of Senate Republicans. “…The silence even extends to the Republican’s nominee for president …we urge him to speak out and endorse this legislation.”