By Lisa Mascaro and Kathleen Hennessey, Tribune Washington Bureau –
WASHINGTON — As President Barack Obama continues to enjoy a gender gap over the GOP front-runner Mitt Romney, Democrats in Congress hope to help widen their party’s advantage among female voters by portraying Republicans as the enemies of paycheck equity.
Republican senators are expected to block the Paycheck Fairness Act, and on the eve of Tuesday’s vote in the Senate, Obama and his allies said the bill would help women breadwinners at a time when Americans continue to struggle in the difficult economy.
“At a time when we’re in a make-or-break moment for the middle class, Congress has to step up and do its job,” Obama said during a conference call with women’s groups and allies. “If Congress passes the Paycheck Fairness Act, women are going to have access to more tools to claim equal pay for equal work. If they don’t, if Congress doesn’t act, then women are still going to have difficulty enforcing and pressing for this basic principle.”
The legislation is the latest in a series of votes being brought forward in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, to highlight the White House’s support for women’s issues — and put pressure on the GOP.
Republicans have long faced a gap with women voters, according to polls, and have fought back against the Democrats’ narrative that they are waging a “war on women” by promoting their female candidates for Congress. At the same time, Republicans largely dismiss the pay equity act as unnecessary, calling it a boon for trial lawyers and a government overreach that would impose on worker privacy.
The Romney campaign declined to say if he would support this particular bill.
“Of course Governor Romney supports pay equity for women,” said Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg. “In order to have pay equity, women need to have jobs, and they have been getting crushed in this anemic Obama economy.”
This week’s Senate vote comes days before the 49th anniversary of the nation’s first pay equity act, signed into law by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson. Democrats and their allies argue the legislation needs an upgrade as women still earn less than men. A key provision of the bill would knock down barriers and restrictions in many workplaces that prevent workers from sharing their salary and wage information.
Among the first bills Obama signed into law was the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which allows workers to sue for pay discrimination.