Equal Pay Act Instantly Resurrected as Campaign Issue

Democrats have accused Republicans of failing women by not allowing the Senate to reach cloture on the Paycheck Fairness Act. The GOP calls the act a political stunt, saying measures already exist to protect equal pay for women.

The Democrat-backed Paycheck Fairness Act was blocked Tuesday, falling 8 votes short of cloture, 52 to 47.

The legislature would have made it easier for women to sue their employers on the grounds of gender-based pay discrimination. It also would have protected workers from being fired for discussing wages with co-workers.

From the presidential contest to the U.S. Senate race in PA, candidates and committees sought to politicize the vote.

Democrats asserted that the bill would have made a vital contribution to closing the 17.6 percent pay gap between genders (18.6 percent in Pennsylvania).

Republicans, however, are calling the legislation a political stunt, pointing out that current federal law, including the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1963 Equal Pay Act and the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Act already protect women’s rights to equal pay.

“It’s pure election-year politics,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). “This bill reads more to me like some sort of a welfare plan for trial lawyers.”

Republicans around the country have also vocalized concern over the threat the Paycheck Fairness Act would have posed to small businesses.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a coalition of 22 job organizations pointed out that the bill would punish employers for legitimate business practices like “providing premium pay for professional experience, education, shift differentials or hazardous work, as well as pay differentials based on local labor market rates or an organization’s profitability.”

Prominent members of the Democratic Party, including former Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper, criticized Republicans and Mitt Romney for failure to support the equal-pay act – which they called central to women’s rights.

Philadelphia City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown said, “Simply put, Romney has failed to stand behind working women.”

The Obama camp has enthusiastically backed the Paycheck Fairness Act.

“If Mitt Romney wants to represent America’s women, he should stand up and support this hallmark legislation and ensure that Republicans in Congress like Pat Toomey support the legislation,” his campaign wrote in a press release Tuesday.

Allie Brandenburger, a Romney campaign spokesperson responded to the criticism saying, “Of course Governor Romney supports pay equity for women. In order to have pay equity, women need to have jobs, and they have been getting crushed in this anemic Obama economy, losing far more jobs than men.

“As president, Mitt Romney will create a pro-jobs business climate that will put all Americans back to work.”

The equal-pay legislation will also play a significant role in the Senate race. Sen. Bob Casey released a press statement expressing his disappointment in the Senate’s rejection of the bill, which he co-sponsored. He also said that he will continue fighting for its passage.

“I’m disappointed that despite overwhelming evidence showing women are still getting paid significantly less than men for the same work, a minority in the Senate rejected a common-sense bill that would help narrow the pay gap,” Casey said.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee blasted Casey over the vote. Spokesman Lance Trover said the Senator is, “more concerned with scoring political points and helping his trial lawyer friends,” than creating jobs.

Republican Senate candidate Tom Smith’s campaign echoed national Republicans. In an email to The Express-Times, Smith’s campaign manager Jim Conroy said, “Tom Smith supports pay equality but believes we can do better than a bill that does little to solve the real issue while benefiting only Senator Casey’s trial lawyer friends.”

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