House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a news conference to mark Equal Pay Day, on Capitol Hill, April 8, 2014.
Drew Angerer/Getty

House Democrats advance the Paycheck Fairness Act

In every Congress, the House majority leadership, regardless of which party is in control, sets aside the first 10 available bill numbers. It’s intended as a way to show a party’s top legislative priorities: H.R. 1 through H.R. 10 will reflect the leadership’s most important goals.

With this in mind, the House Democratic majority voted yesterday on H.R. 7– better known as the Paycheck Fairness Act. As Politico reported, it passed rather easily.

The House on Wednesday cleared a bill aimed at closing the gender pay gap, marking its first vote on the issue in nearly a decade and notching another political win for the Democratic Party.

All 242 Democrats voted for the measure to tackle gender-based wage discrimination, which Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her top lieutenants had declared a top priority, with a record 102 women serving in their caucus.

The final roll call is online here. Note that literally every Democrat in the chamber voted to pass it, and they were joined by seven House Republicans.

In case anyone needs a refresher, a New York Times editorial a while back explained that the Paycheck Fairness Act would “enhance the remedies available for victims of gender-based discrimination and require employers to show that wage differences are job-related, not sex-based, and driven by business necessity. The measure would also protect employees from retaliation for sharing salary information, which is important for deterring and challenging discriminatory compensation.”

That’s a good summary, but note the date on the editorial: April 23, 2012.

I mention this because the Paycheck Fairness Act is not new. In fact, as Ella Nilsen noted, the legislation’s author, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) “first introduced the bill in 1997.”

It was poised to become law several times, but it couldn’t overcome Republican opposition. Will 2019 be any different?

If the debate in the House was any indication, proponents of the legislation should probably keep expectations low.

Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) suggested that his female colleague, Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), did not understand a piece of legislation on the gender pay gap that she co-sponsored, or his proposed amendment to it.

The bill, known as the Paycheck Fairness Act, aims to eliminate gender-based pay inequality by altering the language in the Fair Labor Standards Act. Byrne’s amendment, which eventually failed on a voice vote, would have altered specific language in the bill and removed a portion of it.

“Mr. Chairman, I have great respect for the lady,” Byrne said while defending his amendment. “I don’t think [Wild] understands what that language actually means and how it’s been interpreted by the courts and how it may be totally misinterpreted against plaintiffs in these types of lawsuits.”

“I do think that she misunderstands both the amendment and the underlying bill,” he later added.

No word on whether the women in the chamber appreciated the far-right congressman’s efforts to explain the bill to them.

The Paycheck Fairness Act now heads to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is unlikely to allow members to even vote on it.