CAPITOL HILL — The U.S. Senate has failed to advance a bill intended to make it harder for employers to pay men more than women for the same work. The bill is one element of a partisan battle over America’s economic fortunes, with Democrats and Republicans staking out starkly different agendas before midterm elections in November.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, American women earn on average 77 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. That has to change, according to Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren.
“In 99.6 percent of all occupations, men get paid more than women," she said. "That is not an accident; that is discrimination.”
Among other provisions, the Paycheck Fairness Act would boost transparency by protecting employees from retaliation if they reveal their wages to coworkers. Currently, many employers bar their workers from comparing salaries, effectively hiding any disparities.
Democratic Senator Richard Durbin says gender-based pay discrimination punishes women well beyond their working years.
“It is not just less take-home pay for women doing the same job, it means fewer social security benefits when they retire," he said. "They are not earning at the same level as men. They pay for it for a lifetime.”
Democrats are also advocating a raise in the national minimum wage and an extension of benefits for the long-term unemployed. All face significant opposition from Republicans, who accuse Democrats of political posturing to disguise America’s lackluster economic performance under President Barack Obama. Senator John Thune says, “Democrats are playing politics with equal pay and attempting to distract from the real harm that their policies have done to women."
"Right now, there are 3.7 million more women living in poverty than there were when the president took office," he said. "If Democrats were really serious about helping women, they would work with us [Republicans] on bills to create jobs and to expand workplace opportunities for women - and for men, as well.”
Thune said the bill would mire employers in costly litigation that would benefit lawyers more than working women. Senator Durbin disagreed, and said voters will weigh in on the issue in November, when one third of the Senate and all seats in the Republican-led House of Representatives will be contested.
“The American people will have the last word," he said. "They will have it in the election. They can decide if this is important.”
No Republican senators voted with majority Democrats to begin debate on the bill, which fell seven votes shy of the 60 required. The vote came one day after President Barack Obama ordered paycheck protections for workers employed by companies that do business with the federal government.