Two years ago, Democrats brought the Paycheck Fairness Act to the Senate floor, and thought they had a credible shot at passing the bill. Ultimately, 58 senators supported it and 41 opposed it -- which, thanks to the way the modern Senate operates, means the bill failed. (The chamber's GOP "moderates" -- Scott Brown, Susan Collins, and Olympia Snowe -- all backed the filibuster.)
This year, Democrats are giving it another try.
...Senate Democrats are planning to make another attempt to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, a much-needed updating and strengthening of the 1963 Equal Pay Act.The measure was narrowly defeated two years ago by solid Republican opposition, despite strong support from President Obama. The bill 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.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was an important step forward when it comes to combating discrimination, but it was also narrowly focused to address a specific problem: giving victims of discrimination access to the courts for legal redress. The Paycheck Fairness Act is a broader measure.
While the substance is clearly important, the political context shouldn't be overlooked. Republicans are struggling badly this election year with women voters, who the GOP seems to have alienated in remarkable ways, and most Senate Republicans already voted last week to oppose the Violence Against Women Act. Democrats are poised to put them on the spot once more with the Paycheck Fairness Act.
If GOP lawmakers reverse course and vote for it, Democrats will be pleased because it will advance the proposal and mark a victory for the party's policy agenda. If Republicans oppose it, Dems will use it as another example of the GOP acting against women's interests.
Of course, it's not just congressional Republicans who have something to worry about.
Mitt Romney refused to state a firm opinion on the Violence Against Women Act, and he's said even less about the Paycheck Fairness Act. As these measures reach the Senate floor, the pressure builds for the presumptive Republican presidential candidate to -- cue scary music -- state his opinions on important pending legislation.
If he sides with Democrats in support of the measure, Romney undercuts his allies on Capitol Hill, as well as friends at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is lobbying to kill the bill. If he sticks with this party, Romney risks exacerbating the already-large gender gap, taking yet another position that's hostile towards women's interests.
With women still only making 77 cents for every dollar men earn in similar jobs, the question will soon become why the Republican presidential candidate seems indifferent to the problem.
A floor vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act has not yet been scheduled, but Senate Democrats expect action within the next couple of weeks.