Senate Republicans aren't sweating a ramped-up push by Democrats and President Barack Obama for new pay equity legislation — pushing forward women Republicans to rebut charges they have a woman problem and doubting the issue will resonate with voters.
“I think the Democrats are doing anything they can to try to change the subject from the nightmare of Obamacare and the joblessness that we experience in our country right now,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
But Democrats contend that Senate Republicans ignore the pay equity issue at their political peril come November, with control of the Senate at stake.
“They are out of touch,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., a member of Democratic leadership, said of the GOP after a press conference touting the bill. “They are so in their conservative echo chamber that they don’t know what’s going on in America and that’s going to help us dramatically in 2014.” Their comments came as Obama signed two executive actions Tuesday designed to help ensure equal pay for federal contractors.
“Republicans in Congress have been gumming up the works,” Obama said Tuesday. “They've been blocking progress on this issue, and of course other issues that would help with the economic recovery and help us grow faster. But we don't have to accept that. America, you don't have to sit still. You can make sure that you're putting some pressure on members of Congress about this issue.”
The Senate is scheduled to take a procedural vote Wednesday on the bill, which would, in part, require employers to provide pay information when requested and not retaliate against the worker seeking the pay data.
The vote may fail unless Democrats allow Republicans to offer amendments to the bill and could be the first of many procedural votes on the measure as Democrats seek to fire up women voters.
“We are going to come back to this issue several times this year, just as we did with unemployment insurance, and see what kind of excuses Republicans come up with for opposing this common sense bill,” Schumer said, acknowledging that the bill may fail to get the 60 votes needed to advance Wednesday.
Republicans argue that the Democrats’ bill — along with their so-called “Fair Shot” agenda for the year — is a political ploy that will not fool voters.
“I think the American public is smart enough to see this for what it is,” said Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said of the Democrats' maneuvering. “They have no interest in policy. What they want to do is make a political statement.”
Nevertheless, Republicans offered a GOP alternative to the Democrats' bill, sponsored by Republican women senators — Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Susan Collins of Maine, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Fischer said her amendment would address issues Republicans have with the Democratic proposal, including negative effects to merit pay, rigid pay scales and removal of caps on punitive actions.
The Fischer proposal was one of several amendments, including a catchall amendment from Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., for which Republicans sought unanimous consent to set up votes if cloture is invoked Wednesday.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., objected to the request, though he added that he remained open to possible GOP amendments.
“The Republicans always want to change the subject,” Reid said of Republicans' proposed amendments.
“The question before the Senate is whether we should even begin debate on this matter,” Reid continued. “If Senators want to offer amendments we have to begin the debate. I’m always happy to talk about amendments.”
But Reid said the Thune amendment is not reasonable. The 350-page package includes a raft of Republican proposals including small business tax cuts.
“I think if you look closely at this 350-page amendment you might even find a kitchen sink in it, it’s got everything else in it,” Reid said. “It’s really a perfect example of trying to divert attention from the subject at hand. This isn’t a serious effort to try to debate equal pay for equal work.”
Thune sought to offer the amendment last week to the bipartisan unemployment insurance extension passed by the Senate Monday in exchange for expediting passage of the measure, but Democrats turned down the offer.
Republicans also believe the Democratic bill is a gift to trial lawyers, who are typically allied with Democrats.
“I think most people see through this and realize this is a sop for to the trial lawyers and not really about fairness,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.
But Schumer argued that voting to filibuster the pay equity bill would be tough to explain to constituents over the upcoming recess.
“If the Republicans filibuster our bill tomorrow they are going to have to go home to their constituents, men and women alike, and explain to them why men should make more on the dollar compared to women,” Schumer said.