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President Barack Obama and Hill Democrats coordinated a public relations push Monday for a pay equity bill that their allies hope will be a potent weapon against Mitt Romney.
Democrats held three conference calls to push for the bill ahead of a Senate vote today, including one featuring a brief appearance by Obama.
“We’ve got to understand this is more than just about fairness,” 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, small businesses have fewer customers. Everybody suffers.”
Democrats have used the bill to beat up Republicans as part of their “war on women” charge. They say the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that Obama has been touting for three years doesn’t go far enough and the new bill is needed to allow workers to share salary information without threat of retribution from their employers. It also would put employers at risk of punitive damages in addition to back pay if they discriminate.
Ostensibly, the push is aimed at persuading Republicans not to filibuster the bill, but that’s a tall order. For Republicans, the push — coming years after Obama first backed the legislation — is less about pay equity and more about presidential job security. They privately dismiss the effort as another “show vote” that would be a boon to trial lawyers. And so far there’s little evidence that the Senate’s Republican women will abandon their leadership the way they did on the Violence Against Women Act. A coalition of business groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has also strongly opposed the legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid didn’t sound like he expected to win the 60 votes needed to move the bill forward.
“No woman working to support herself or her family should be paid less than her male counterparts,” the Nevada Democrat said on the Senate floor. “Yet Republicans are filibustering the Paycheck Fairness Act — legislation that would help even the playing field for women in the workforce. ... It appears Republicans will wind up on the wrong side of this issue as well, sending the message to little girls across the country that their work is less valuable because they happened to be born female,” he continued.
The Romney camp, meanwhile, emailed a statement endorsing the general idea of pay equity.