GOP Blocks Equal Pay Bill in Senate

GOP Blocks Equal Pay Bill in Senate
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Senate Republicans voted Wednesday to block the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation designed by Democrats to mobilize women voters in the midterm elections.

The bill, which would require employers to be more transparent about wages and prohibit them from retaliating against workers who raise concerns about pay, failed to get the 60 votes needed to move forward with debate. The vote comes a day after a well-publicized, coordinated push on equal pay by the White House and congressional Democrats. But the latter aren’t bothered by that failure -- they expected it, and the rejection allows them to keep hitting Republicans on the issue moving toward November.

“For some unknown reason, Senate Republicans do not appear to be interested in closing the wage gap for working women,” Majority Leader Harry Reid said before the vote, which fell mostly on party lines. (Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with Democrats, voted against the bill.)

Republicans, though, seem unbothered by recording a vote against this bill, which they have dismissed as a political ploy to benefit Democrats in an election year. GOP senators argued that it’s already illegal to discriminate against women in the workplace, and that the legislation regarding pay regulation would open the doors to frivolous lawsuits.

GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell has criticized Democrats’ push for the bill as a way to move voters’ focus away from the health care law.

Democrats, on the other hand, believe they have reached a turning point on Obamacare after enrollment numbers hit 7.1 million at the end of last month (polling now shows Americans more supportive of fixing the law than gutting it). As such, the “potency” of the health care law is starting to wear off, Sen. Chuck Schumer said. And that, combined with Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget outline and the Democrats’ “fair shot” issues of pay equity, minimum wage, and others intended to energize key parts of the electorate, will rally Democrats in the midterm, he said.

Women voters helped propel Democrats to victories in the 2008 and 2012 presidential races, and more recently in the Virginia governor’s race.

Following the 53-44 vote, President Obama issued a statement lamenting that “Republicans in Congress continue to oppose serious efforts to create jobs, grow the economy, and level the playing field for working families.” 

Republican congressional candidates are likely to hear that theme repeated and will draw flak from Democratic opponents for Wednesday’s defeat -- whether they actually cast a vote or not -- especially in tough races. All Democrats voted for the bill, even though it wasn’t likely to pass, signaling that the most vulnerable ones see it as an advantage. The issue has also energized Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, as Republican Gov. Rick Perry recently vetoed an equal pay bill passed by the state legislature.

The fact that no Republicans voted for the bill signals they believe they can withstand the coming attacks. But GOP lawmakers also know the issue is a politically delicate one.

“I think it’s really important that Republicans say strongly, we’re against discrimination, we acknowledge that on any number of fronts there is still a problem out there, and that’s why we need good strong laws, but we don’t want laws that would discourage work,” Sen. Rob Portman, a vice chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told RCP.

Update: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized a comment by Mitch McConnell as critical of Democrats' efforts to pass the paycheck fairness bill. McConnell was speaking of Harry Reid's "bizarre obsession" with GOP donors Charles and David Koch when the minority leader added: “The percentage of Americans in the workforce is at an almost four-decade low, and Democrats chose to ignore serious job-creation ideas so they could blow a few kisses to their powerful pals on the left." 

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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