Democrats campaign for Paycheck Fairness Act ahead of Tuesday vote

But the bill, which would provide several protections for women in the workplace, is unlikely to overcome a filibuster by Senate Republicans.

J Pat Carter/AP
Several women stage a protest in downtown Miami, in May, demanding equal pay for women during the May Day protests. Ahead of its scheduled vote in the Senate on Tuesday, Democrats on Monday took to the press to try to drum up support for the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill to ensure equal pay in the workplace between men and women of equal qualification.

Democrats on Monday took to the press to try to drum up support for the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill to ensure equal pay in the workplace between men and women of equal qualification, despite expectations that Republicans will filibuster its passage.

President Obama, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, and Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D) of Maryland and Chuck Schumer (D) of New York all joined conference calls to talk up the legislation on Monday ahead of its scheduled vote in the Senate on Tuesday.

Why the outreach, even though the bill is widely expected to fail to hit the 60 votes needed to beat a Senate filibuster? First, the legislation is near and dear to Democrats' hearts. Senator Mikulski and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D) of Connecticut have been introducing versions of the measure for more than a decade.

The Paycheck  Fairness Act (PFA) would offer several additional protections for women in the workplace, including increased ability to pursue punitive damages for unequal pay claims; prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who inquire about payment practices or who disclose their own salaries; and require businesses to prove that differences in pay between genders were rooted in business requirements.

Second, even with the outcome looking certain, the bill provides Democrats with the opportunity to further push the narrative of what they call the Republicans' "war on women."

"The gender gap is not only about how we vote, but how we are treated. And how we are treated in the workplace is when we try to find out about our pay, we often face harassment, humiliation, or retaliation," said Mikulski on a call with reporters. "American women are mad as hell, and they are ready to fight."

The president, on the other hand, described the issue in economic terms.

"And we've got to understand this is more than just about fairness," Mr. Obama said Monday. "Women are the breadwinners for a lot of families, and if they're making less than men do for the same work, families are going to have to get by for less money for child care and tuition and rent, small businesses have fewer customers. Everybody suffers."

But conservatives say it's not that simple. They argue the legislation is little more than a give-away for "litigators and aggrieved women's groups," as Christina Hoff Sommers, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in a recent op-ed. She argues that the statistic most frequently marshaled by the bill's backers – that women earn only $0.77 for every dollar paid to men – "is mostly, and perhaps entirely, an artifact of the different choices men and women make – different fields of study, different professions, different balances between home and work." 

Democrats see that as thinly veiled sexism.

"They’re basically saying women choose to be paid less than men," Senator Schumer said Monday. "This is as false as it is insulting – and it's inaccurate."

The issue is clearly a bit awkward for Republican lawmakers. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky didn't mention the issue after comments by his counterpart, majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada, when the Senate opened its weekly business Monday afternoon.

"Most if not all of them are likely to vote no," Schumer said. "But you won't see them making any big floor speeches against the bill. They don't want to be drawn into a conversation on this issue, and they're hoping the vote gets drowned out."

Of course, knowing that "most if not all" of the Senate's GOP lawmakers would move against the bill makes its moment in the legislative sun Tuesday afternoon a bit of a moot point. But that won't stop Democrats from trying to take political advantage along the way.

"It appears Republicans will wind up on the wrong side of this issue, as well," Senator Reid said on the Senate floor Monday, "sending the message to little girls across the country that their work is less valuable because they happened to be born female."

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