WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House and congressional Republicans blasted each other yesterday over equal pay in a battle for women’s votes as Democrats try to hold the US Senate in the November midterm elections.
President Barack Obama signed an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against employees for disclosing pay levels to co-workers and attacked Republicans for opposing broader legislation that would make the practice illegal for companies nationwide.
Republicans said pay discrimination was already illegal and predicted the Democrat-supported Paycheck Fairness Act would prompt frivolous lawsuits and discourage companies from hiring.
The Democratic-led Senate is set to hold a procedural vote on the measure today but even if the legislation clears that chamber, the Republican-dominated House of Representatives appears likely to oppose it.
The dispute underscored the importance that both parties place on women voters in an election year where Democrats fear losing control of the Senate and Republicans are seeking to defend their dominance in the House of Representatives.
“I don’t know why you would resist the idea that women should be paid the same as men, and then deny that that’s not always happening out there,” Obama said at the White House at an East Room event filled with women.
“If Republicans in Congress want to prove me wrong, if they want to show that they, in fact, do care about women being paid the same as men, then show me. They can start tomorrow. They can join us in this, the 21st century, and vote yes on the Paycheck Fairness Act.”
Obama cited US Census data that show the average full-time female worker earned 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. The US Department of Labor says the gap is tighter, with women in full-time jobs earning 81 cents for every dollar men earn.
Critics, including the US Chamber of Commerce, a business lobby group, say both figures are misleading.
Other factors also affect the data, such as types of jobs worked by women, hours worked, and college majors, which affect whether people get higher- or lower-paying jobs, said Andrew Biggs, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
“The idea that there’s a 23 per cent pay gap between men and women based on discrimination is flat-out false,” he said.
The Republican National Committee accused Obama’s party of playing politics.
“These are the same Democrats who controlled the White House and Senate for the last five years but always seem to wait for an election year to push another empty promise,” the RNC said in a memo distributed to reporters.
“The truth is the ‘Paycheck Fairness Act’ is a desperate political ploy. And Democrats are cynically betting that Americans aren’t smart enough to know better.”
Support from women helped propel Obama to the White House in 2008 and 2012, and the president frequently recalls that the first bill he signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which extended time periods for employees to file claims for wages lost as a result of discrimination.
Lilly Ledbetter, who fought for back pay after discovering she had been paid less than her male colleagues for doing the same job, joined Obama at the event.