The bill, which needs 60 votes to clear procedural hurdles, faces almost certain defeat because most Republicans plan to vote against it. But Obama and Senate Democrats are hoping those votes will give them the opportunity to paint congressional Republicans as hostile to women’s interests.
The strategy is part of an increasingly common practice in Congress of moving legislation aimed solely at producing political results. For House Republicans, the strategy means votes to roll back parts of the Obama 2010 health-care reform bill or votes to highlight rising gasoline prices.
In the Senate, Democrats believe a sustained focus on women’s issues should help them maintain a slim majority after the November elections.
The Democratic strategy may be working: A CNN-ORC poll released last week found that voters are generally split on whether to support Democratic or Republican congressional candidates. Among women, the gap is wider: Fifty percent of female respondents said they plan to back Democratic congressional candidates, an eight-point lead over the GOP.
The paycheck bill would bar companies from retaliating against workers who inquire about pay disparities and permit employees to sue for punitive damages if they find evidence of broad differences in compensation between male and female workers. Democrats say the measure would bolster reforms enacted with the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter pay law that expanded the statute of limitations for filing equal-pay lawsuits.
In a hastily arranged phone call Monday with what the White House described as “stakeholders” on the pay issue, Obama said: “Women are the breadwinners for a lot of families, and if they’re making less than men do for the same work, families are going to have to get by for less money for child care and tuition and rent.”
The bill’s main sponsor, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), cited Census Bureau statistics that show that women on average earn about 77 cents for every dollar, up from 63 cents to the dollar in 1963.
Several business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and associations representing bankers, construction firms and retailers, issued a statement opposing the legislation, saying it would result in “unprecedented government control over how employees are paid at even the nation’s smallest employers.”