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Senate urged to take up pay equity for women

By William Douglas, McClatchy Newspapers –

WASHINGTON — Gender politics takes center stage again this election year as the Senate on Tuesday is urged to consider a pay equality bill that the White House and congressional Democrats say is necessary but Republicans decry as a show vote designed to paint them as anti-women.

Senators will vote whether to debate the Democratic-sponsored Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that would require businesses to show that wage discrepancies between men and women are not based on gender. The measure also bans retaliation against workers who reveal their wages or try to get wage information from their employers.

The bill isn’t expected to reach the 60-vote threshold required for the Senate to proceed. Still, Democrats waged a full-court press for it Monday with President Barack Obama on a conference call — he took no questions — calling the bill urgent in order to aid women and help the nation’s economy.

“If Congress passes the Paycheck Fairness Act, women are going to have access to more tools to claim equal pay for equal work,” Obama said. “If Congress doesn’t act, then women are still going to have difficulty enforcing and pressing for this basic principle.”

In a broad push, the White House, senior White House aides, Democratic senators and liberal interest groups followed with statements declaring the proposal essential to the economic security of women and arguing that a vote against it would be a vote against jobs.

“This will be the first test of Republicans’ level of cooperation on measures important to the recovery since last week’s jarring jobs report,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., alluding to May’s jobs report, which showed the nation’s unemployment rate had ticked up to 8.2 percent. “Clearly they’re under pressure from outside special interests on this measure . . . ideological voices on the far right are applying great pressure, trying to deny that a wage gap even exists.”

Republican congressional leaders, for the most part, avoided public comment on the measure. Privately, they accused Democrats of using the bill to advance their campaign argument that Republican lawmakers and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney are waging a “war on women.”

Republicans also accused Democrats of hypocrisy for bringing up the Paycheck Fairness Act while touting on the campaign trail that they had successfully addressed pay equity when Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter law in 2009, the first bill that Obama signed into law.

The Ledbetter law makes it easier for those who think they’ve endured pay discrimination to seek legal help. The Republican Communication Center issued a release quoting a letter sent last month to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and signed by 22 business-related groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which called the Paycheck Fairness Act redundant.

“A number of federal laws already specifically protect employees from pay discrimination, including the Equal Pay Act, the Civil Rights Act and the Lilly Ledbetter Act,” the letter said.

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