Republicans are criticizing the Democrat-backed Paycheck Fairness Act as a “desperate” election-year stunt that hurts women, criticizing both the White House’s own pay practices and the numbers it uses to advocate for equal pay.
“The truth is the ‘Paycheck Fairness Act’ is a desperate political ploy,” Republican National Committee Press Secretary Kirsten Kukowski said in a memo Tuesday to mark Equal Pay Day, the annual public awareness holiday that highlights the day each year when women catch up to their male counterparts’ pay from the previous year.
The Paycheck Fairness Act, which Democrats are pushing hard as part of the party’s election-year agenda, would require employers to disclose payment information to a federal commission, prevent employees from being punished for inquiring about their coworkers’ pay, and make employers liable to civil suits alleging pay discrimination. The bill could make an appearance on the Senate floor as soon as Wednesday.
On Tuesday, as part of Equal Pay Day festivities, President Obama is expected to sign an executive order essentially authorizing a miniature version of the Paycheck Fairness Act for federal contractors.
Meanwhile, Republicans are trying to combat the momentum Democrats are hoping to gain.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell slammed Democrats' focus on pay equity as detrimental to the economy.
"Instead of focusing on jobs, [Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid] launched into another confusing attack on the left's latest bizarre obsession," McConnell said on the Senate floor on Tuesday. "Just think about that. 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."
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, criticized the White House for its own gender pay gap. News broke earlier this week that female White House staffers make 12% less than men in the White House.
"I'm seeing the news this morning and it seems that the White House is having a little problem on this themselves,” Cantor told reporters.
The White House defended its pay gap, saying it was better than the national average and that men and women in the same positions earn the same salary.
But Republicans aren’t taking their word for it.
“The ‘Paycheck Fairness Act’ doesn’t provide paycheck fairness for women. In fact, it will cut flexibility in the work place for working moms and end merit pay that rewards good work – the very things that are important to us,” the RNC said in its release. The RNC argued that gender discrimination is already illegal and that the legislation would make tying pay to merit impossible for employers while opening them up to “frivolous” lawsuits.
The RNC particularly criticized the president’s own payroll and argued that the White House’s claim that women make 77 cents for every dollar men make is misleading.
“When you use the similar methodology to evaluate White House salaries, it turns out that the median pay for women in the Obama White House is 88 cents for every dollar a man makes,” the release said. “When presented with this information, the White House says it’s not a fair calculation. You have to compare people in equal positions, they say. Exactly! But their ‘77 cents’ statistic doesn’t do that.”
The RNC said that men simply occupy more higher-paying jobs than women do nationally, so the math behind the 77 cents figure is misleading.
A New York City-centric study released Tuesday analyzed six common jobs and found that women make, on average, 82 cents to a man’s dollar while they’re young, and 78 cents to a man’s dollar after age 35.
Washington Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the GOP’s highest ranking female member, also spoke out against Democrats on the gender pay gap.
"Many ladies I know feel like they are being used as pawns and find it condescending that Democrats are trying to use this issue as a political distraction from the failures of their economic policies,” she said.
In the end, the RNC aims to change the conversation back to GOP’s favorite talking point: the Affordable Care Act.
“ObamaCare is deeply unpopular, and they don’t want to talk about how policy cancellations are hurting women, or about how women are losing access to the doctors of their choice, or about how it’s meant smaller paychecks for working women (and men),” the statement concluded. “So instead they’re talking about the ‘Paycheck Fairness Act’ using dishonest rhetoric and inaccurate math.”
It’s a key part of Republicans’ midterm elections pitch to women. In 2012, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney lost women to Obama by 11 points. A CNN/ORC International poll released earlier this year found that more than half of all Americans think the GOP doesn’t understand women. That number jumps when you ask only women, too.