The bill is seen as dead on arrival in the GOP-led House. Senate Republicans, who successfully blocked it in 2010, aren't showing any more interest this time around. Senate GOP members last week argued the bill aims to solve problems that Democrats say have already been tackled in the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. Aides to several female Republicans who backed the Ledbetter legislation declined to comment.
On one conference call, the bill's chief sponsor Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said she's hopeful Republicans will peel away and help break a filibuster, but declined to say whether any GOP votes had been locked down.
"I'm not at liberty to go into that," Mikulski said.
The bill would beef up existing equal-pay laws by protecting women from retaliation if they sue for gender discrimination. It would also narrow the criteria under which an employer can defend pay disparities, and enlist the Department of Labor to help combat gender-based pay gaps.
The timing of the Democrats' push suggests it's part of an ongoing election-year effort to paint GOP as anti-women. Democrats have made significant gains with female voters this year by railing against the GOP's push to limit access to abortion and contraception, and support for cuts to family planning and women's health funding.
Republicans are hesitant to discuss the legislation, a sign that they see it as a political loser.
"Mitt Romney has been hiding under his desk on this issue -- refusing to take a stand," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) on another conference call. After hedging on Lilly Ledbetter, she said, the Republican nominee "has been radio silent on the Paycheck Fairness Act. Is this his idea of leadership?"