Senate Republicans are poised to defeat a pay equity measure on Wednesday, but the bill’s Democratic authors won’t be complaining.
The “Paycheck Fairness Act” is a key part of a new Democratic agenda that is focused not on passing policy but instead on contrasting the Democratic Party with the GOP ahead of November elections.
“This issue boils down to a fundamental question,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday, explaining his party's strategy. “Whose side are you on? As usual, the Republicans are siding with the rich and not obviously being too concerned about what's happening with women in America not getting paid as much as men for doing the exact same work.”
The fairness legislation would make it easier to sue employers for wage discrimination and would require employers to show that gender played no role in pay discrepancies. Under the bill, the Labor Department would be further equipped to investigate wage discrepancies in businesses, and monetary caps would be lifted on lawsuit damages for wage discrimination.
Republican leadership aides confirmed to the Washington Examiner that they have the votes to block the paycheck fairness bill. Their opposition stems from Reid’s refusal to allow them to introduce a series of amendments, including a worker-training provision and language to allow more workplace flexibility when it comes to taking days off instead of collecting overtime pay.
Republicans believe the proposal authored by Democrats will diminish workplace flexibility and merit pay, and would hurt businesses by inviting more lawsuits.
“I think it goes too far on a lot of things,” said Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., who sponsored a job training amendment rejected by Reid.
A Republican rejection of the bill is exactly the outcome Democrats are seeking as they try to steer the public's attention away from the disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act, which has hurt Democrats up for re-election and put their party's grip on the Senate majority in jeopardy.
“This week, the talk is pay equity, not the ACA, and we’ll have more and more weeks like that because we are talking about things that people really care about," New York Sen. Charles Schumer, the No. 3 Democrat, said Tuesday. “Obamacare was a surrogate for people’s anguish and worry. And it was the only thing put in front of them for six months.”
Schumer said that the GOP’s “no” vote on paycheck fairness and other aspects of the Democratic leadership’s “Fair Shot" agenda, including a forthcoming vote on a minimum wage hike, will show voters that the Democratic Party cares more about working families and women than do Republicans.
He also said that Democrats planned to revisit the paycheck fairness legislation “several more times” this year in an effort to drive home their message.
In 2012, the same legislation failed to garner the 60 votes needed to prevent a GOP filibuster.
The Senate began debating the legislation as President Obama signed two executive orders aimed at curbing wage discrimination among federal contractors. The first order bans retaliation against workers who discuss their pay, and the other will require federal contractors to tell the Labor Department how much they are paying employees to ensure women and minorities are being treated equally.
Senate Democrats, advocating for their fairness legislation, on Tuesday cited data suggesting that women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, although that figure has been mostly debunked because it does not take into account differences in jobs or hours.
“Over a lifetime, that's $443,000,” Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said during debate, using the much-debated figure.
The GOP's female senators acknowledged that women in some cases are being unfairly paid less than men, but the lawmakers said they were frustrated that Reid was rejecting their solutions to the problem.
“If this is such a serious issue, then why is it that these amendments are being blocked?" asked Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. “What I fear is something that is an important and legitimate issue is being turned into a political ploy and election-year politics.”