The fight to win women voters in November intensified on Wednesday, when Senate Republicans blocked legislation that sought to close the gender wage gap.
The Democratic-sponsored Paycheck Fairness Act fell to Republican opposition in a 53 to 44 procedural vote. Sixty votes were needed to advance the bill. The pay equity bill would have prevented employer retaliation against employees who share salary details; forced companies to provide pay information when requested; and allowed women who experienced pay discrimination to seek punitive damages.
Democrats have been campaigning to reenergize female voters around their claim that Republicans are engaging in a war on women. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, said one of the best ways to help the economy is to provide women equal pay for the same job performed by men.
“Though we lost the vote we refuse to lose the battle,” she said.
Women make 77 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau -- a gap Democrats say costs women and their families $434,000 over the average career.
"When you are paid less it affects not only your paycheck you take home,” Mikulski said. “It affects your retirement. This is not fair.”
Republicans counter that the measure is unnecessary since there are already laws against discrimination. They’ve also said the measure is an invitation for lawsuits and have dismissed it as nothing but a political tool as the midterm elections inch closer.
The Republican National Committee issued a memo this week stating that all Republicans support equal pay for equal work. However, it said real solutions are needed to address workplace discrimination. These solutions, according to the RNC, should focus on job creation and opportunity for women.
“The truth is the ‘Paycheck Fairness Act’ is a desperate political ploy,” the memo read. “And Democrats are cynically betting that Americans aren’t smart enough to know better. They’re forgetting the millions of women who belong to the Republican Party who will speak out. They’re missing the fathers, husbands, and sons who believe that women deserve real solutions.”
Republicans in the Senate offered an alternative to prevent retaliation against employees. That amendment would also reinforce the current laws that ban discrimination based on gender, and provide skills training for women and men to grasp opportunities in industries where they are underrepresented.
Similar pay-equity bills have twice failed in the past with the most recent roadblock occurring in 2012. This year, the stakes appear greater.
Where President Barack Obama has in the past called for equal pay for equal work, he has now put action behind his words. Obama signed two executive orders on Tuesday to narrow the men-women wage gap. One order prohibits federal contractors from retaliating against employees who share information about their compensation. The other requires them to provide the government with data on salaries paid to employees.
Experts are still uncertain whether the vote on the bill will hurt Republicans chances for a Senate win in November.
Kelly Dittmar, an assistant research professor at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, said Republicans have been finding it a challenge to speak to issues that are most important for women and that standing in the way of the Paycheck Fairness Act was not a good impression for the party to give.
Republicans, however, have an ideological defense when it comes to the specifics of the pay equity legislation. Dittmar said that Republicans can argue to voters about opposing the expanding role of government. Whether these arguments will work until November is far from certain.
“I’m not sure if it will hold out that long,” Dittmar said, “but it will at least be another piece that the Democrats use, I think, to say that Republicans are out of touch with women.”