The next several months will continue to feature message votes from both sides of the aisle and both chambers in Congress, teeing up specific TV ads for the fall campaign. While Republicans have basically passed the breadth of their agenda with message votes, from the budget to social issues, Democrats have been a little more targeted particularly as it relates to the War on Women. They scheduled the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act to dare Republicans to block it. Republicans pretty much obliged. Now Senate Democrats are coming back with the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Five female Democratic senators pressed for legislation Wednesday aimed at closing the wage gap between men and women. The Paycheck Fairness Act would bring up to date the Equal Pay Act, which was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson nearly 50 years ago.
Democrats cited statistics showing that women today are still paid 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, or $10,784 less a year on average. That’s the equivalent of 183 tanks of gas or 92 bags of groceries [...]
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has promised a cloture vote on the pay bill the week of June 4, after the Senate returns from its week-long Memorial Day recess. Republicans, however, have dismissed the effort as political pandering, and the bill is unlikely to pass without GOP support.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being aggressive on this issue. But it brings up another point. To hear it from the Obama campaign, equal pay for equal work has already been made a reality. To a somewhat irritating degree, the Administration and the campaign push the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act as bringing that Valhalla of equal pay to America. But the reality is quite different. Lilly Ledbetter was all about freeing up the right to sue in certain circumstances, when women find out about wage discrimination after the fact. It responded to a Supreme Court ruling. It did not mandate equal pay in any way. And predictably, it didn’t actually bring about equal pay. If it was supposed to make employers fear litigation from female employees, that didn’t work out.
Republicans are now mocking the President for overselling Lilly Ledbetter:
But Republicans say such legislation is unnecessary since the landmark Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is already on the books. President Barack Obama himself has toured the country talking up the Ledbetter Act, which was the first bill he signed into law upon taking office. The law “ensures equal pay for equal work,” he said in Maine this past March.
“I signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, to make sure that all of our daughters have the same opportunity as our sons,” he told the House Democratic Caucus in 2009.
The Paycheck Fairness Act was always the vehicle for bringing equitability in pay across gender. But Democrats made an effort on it in January 2009 and it fell two votes shy in the Senate. They never took it up afterward once Al Franken was seated and Arlen Specter switched sides. Who knows, it could have passed at that point. But the Senate was deep in the health care weeds then. That admittedly narrow period with a 60-vote Senate will go down in history as a missed legislative opportunity.
More from Brian Beutler.