Democrats Revive Equal Pay For Women As An Election Year Weapon

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The Senate is poised to hold a procedural vote Wednesday on legislation to beef up workplace protections for women who are earning less than male colleagues for doing the same work. The bill is unlikely to get Republican support.

“We’re going to vote on Wednesday on fair pay … legislation, simply saying women should get the same amount of money that a man does doing the same work,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said Monday. “Not too absurd, not too radical. But that’s what we’re trying to do. I repeat, this tactic shouldn’t surprise anyone given Republicans’ disregard for women as displayed here in Washington.”

The Paycheck Fairness Act, introduced last year by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), would make it easier for women to sue for sex discrimination in wages, and prohibit employer retaliation against workers for discussing how much they make. For Democrats, it’s a cudgel to hammer Republicans as indifferent toward women ahead of a tough mid-term election.

The bill isn’t expected to get the 60 votes needed to move forward. When a version of it came up in 2012 — also months before an election — Republican senators unanimously filibustered it and dismissed it as a gimmick. If the 55 Democrats vote together, they’ll need five GOP votes to clear the threshold, and they don’t have any yet.

The most moderate of them, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), said in 2012 that existing workplace protections for women were sufficient and argued that the Democrats’ proposal would “result in excessive litigation that would impose a real burden, particularly on small businesses.” Collins’ spokesman didn’t immediately return a request for comment, but the GOP’s approach to the issue hasn’t changed.

Also this week, President Barack Obama intends to sign an executive order enhancing protections for federal contractors who are women.

The White House frequently cites studies saying women earn 77 cents for every dollar men make. That figure rises to about 91 cents when accounting for career choices and time taken off work to care for children. The chart below, via NPR’s Alyson Hurt and based on 2008 weekly earnings from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, tells the story of the pay gap by sex, race and ethnicity.

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