Democratic lawmakers, led by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (Md.), center, spoke about the Paycheck Fairness Act during a Capitol Hill news conference in late May. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Paycheck Fairness Act earned 52 votes in favor of proceeding to final consideration, short of the 60 votes necessary. Senate Republicans voted en masse against the measure, believing that it could adversely affect businesses if employees attempt to file pay-related lawsuits.

But Democratic senators spent the hours before the vote speaking about why the legislation is needed to protect women concerned with having lower pay rates than their male colleagues. No Republican lawmaker discussed the issue on the Senate floor ahead of Tuesday’s vote.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), the bill’s chief sponsor, noted that when compared to the compensation of male workers, women’s pay has climbed an average of 18 cents in 49 years.

“In 1963 we made 59 cents for every dollar that men made. Now it’s 77 cents,” she said. “What does that mean? It means every five years we make an advancement of one penny. Oh no. No more. We’re not just going to take it anymore.”

But any effort to close the gap through legislation will have to wait a bit longer.

Before the vote, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) dismissed the legislation’s purpose, saying “We’ve got a lot of problems. Not enough lawsuits is not a problem.”

The paycheck bill would have barred 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 said the measure would have bolstered reforms enacted with the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter pay law that expanded the statute of limitations for filing equal-pay lawsuits.

President Obama’s reelection campaign and Senate Democrats intend to use the bill’s failure as part of an ongoing push to paint congressional Republicans as hostile to women’s interests, Democratic aides have said. 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 concerns with gasoline prices.

The Democratic strategy of focusing on legislation tied to women’s rights 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.

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