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Senate Democrats Make Play on Equal Pay

In their latest play for female voters, Senate Democrats have begun laying the groundwork for a legislative fight over equal pay next month.

Senate Democrats intend to set up a procedural vote after next week’s recess on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would update the Equal Pay Act signed into law June 10, 1963.

“Forty-nine years later, women still make less for doing the same job with the same education as men do,” Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who introduced the bill, said Wednesday at a briefing. “What we are saying here on the eve of the 49th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act is we’re mad as hell and we’re not going take it anymore.”

Republicans were unmoved and criticized their Democratic counterparts for pushing what they said was more pressing legislation to the side. A senior GOP leadership aide said “it makes it tough to swallow” that Senate Democratic leaders have complained about lack of floor time to deal with what the aide said was “the largest tax hike in history, sequestration, spending bills” and an assortment of other must-do legislation.

Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), who is head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, called on Republicans to back the bill to show that they support women’s issues, despite what she called a raft of recent GOP legislative proposals that would disadvantage women.

“I … urge Republicans to join with us to pass this critical legislation,” Murray said at the briefing. “Over the past few months, many of us have stood up here in front of you to fight against partisan attacks on policies that would impact women across America. None of us started these fights, but we are not going to stand by and watch as Republicans roll back the clock.”

Among the examples Democrats have cited is contraception. In March, Senate Republicans offered an amendment to transportation reauthorization legislation that would have allowed companies and insurance providers to opt out of a proposed rule that mandates access to birth control.

The amendment, which was defeated, came in response to a rule proposed by the Obama administration that would require insurance companies to provide and pay for contraception services in accordance with the 2010 health care law.

Democrats said the amendment showed that Republicans were willing to trample on women’s right to contraception, which they said was standard health care.

Republicans said the rule threatens religious freedom.

Since then, however, Republican leaders have focused on jobs messaging and have largely deferred on getting involved in any more sparring in the culture wars.

Democrats on Wednesday insisted their bill had bearing on the economy.

“Every time we stood up to defend women, the Republicans would jump up and say we were creating distractions or creating manufactured issues,” Murray said. “They would say we should be focused on the economy, like we were the ones changing the subject and making partisan attacks. We are not going to stop standing up for women and our families. And to those Republicans who claim to be so concerned about the economy, now is your chance to sign on to co-sponsor this bill.

“The Paycheck Fairness Act isn’t just about women and is not just about fairness, it is about the economy,” Murray continued. “When women are not paid what they deserve, middle-class families and communities pay the price.”  

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women who work full time still earn, on average, only 77 cents for every dollar men earn. On average, black women were paid 62 cents and Latinas were paid 53 cents, as compared to white men.

The pay disparity comes at a time when almost 40 percent of women are acting as their primary household breadwinners.

Republicans were skeptical of the legislation and pointed to Democrats’ touting over the past few years of the 2009 passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act as a balm to the issue of pay equity.

The law was named after a woman who discovered she was being paid less than her male peers.

 A jury found the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company plant in Gadsden, Ala., where she worked, guilty of pay discrimination. But in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court threw out the case, ruling that Ledbetter should have filed her suit within 180 days of the date that Goodyear first paid her less than her peers. In 2009, the 111th Congress passed the legislation that  clarified the statue of limitations on pay discrimination cases.

“Either they’ve been lying about Lilly Ledbetter for three years or they’re losing so much ground among women that they’ll say anything to try to get it back,” a different senior Republican aide said.

Democrats said the Ledbetter bill only relaxed the statute of limitations on pay equity discrimination. Mikulski said the Ledbetter bill was a “down payment” by “keeping the court house doors open.”

The Paycheck Fairness Act “closes the loopholes that allow discrimination in the first place,” Mikulski added.

The bill would require employers to demonstrate that wage differences between men and women doing the same work have a business justification and stem from factors other than gender. It would also prohibit retaliation against workers who inquire about their employers’ wage practices or disclose their own wages. It would also protect certain confidential wage information.

The bill would help level the playing field by ensuring that women can obtain the same remedies as those subject to discrimination on the basis of race or national origin.

It would also seek to encourage enforcement of equal pay laws by reinstating the collection of wage-related data and providing resources to train workers who enforce equal pay laws.

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