Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) and fellow Democrats plan to force a vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

The Senate will return to Washington this week and Democrats plan to hold a vote on another bill linked to women’s rights, part of a months-long effort to woo female voters — and now to try to drive a wedge between Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and GOP lawmakers.

Senate Republicans have said they will vote against the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that Democrats say would further protect women fighting for higher salaries. They were unable to pass the measure during the 2010 lame-duck session.

Citing Census Bureau data, Democrats note that women earn 77 cents for every dollar their male colleagues make. The bill would require employers to prove that potential wage differences between men and women are job-related and driven by business necessity, not a worker’s sex. The measure also would protect workers from retaliation for sharing salary information with colleagues.

Ahead of this week’s vote, Democrats plan to make any “no” votes an issue on the campaign trail.

In Virginia last week, former governor George Allen, the likely Republican nominee in the race to succeed retiring Sen. James Webb (D), wouldn’t say how he would vote on the bill, but his opponent, former governor Timothy M. Kaine (D), expressed strong support for it. Several female Democratic Senate candidates — including Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Rep. Shelley Berkley (Nev.) — plan to criticize their (male) Republican opponents for opposing the measure.

But more important for Democrats, they hope the bill will force Romney to take a stand on the issue. On Sunday, Stephanie Cutter, a top adviser to President Obama’s reelection campaign, told ABC that “we’ll be watching to see if Romney finally takes leadership and stands up for women by standing up to the extreme voices in his party.”

What else is going on this week?

In the House, lawmakers are slated to vote Tuesday on a series of bills dealing with national park boundaries and others related to water rights and natural resources. Later in the week, House Republicans plan to hold votes on appropriations bills and the first of several measures to be voted on this summer that would strip away at parts of the 2010 health-care reform bill. The Health Care Cost Reduction Act of 2012, sponsored by Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.), would repeal a tax on medical devices — a key revenue source for the new reforms.

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