The Senate Kills the Paycheck Fairness Act. So What Else Is New?

5 years ago

I didn’t hold much hope that the Paycheck Fairness Act would get a fair hearing in the Senate. And sure enough, even though the bill had 52 votes—a number that, until the filibuster became so wildly popular with the GOP as a political weapon, would have guaranteed a vote--it didn’t even get discussed. Because that would have been too normal and grown-up.

But here’s what really disgusts me: not a single GOP senator voted to help women improve their economic lives. Even Olympia Snowe sided with the anti-everything Chamber of Commerce. I could see if it had been a lousy bill, badly written or superfluous, or had a super-secret amendment in fine print that raised taxes on millionaires. I could see why Republicans might have rebelled en masse then. But the bill, as these things go, was pretty straightforward. The Faircheck Payness Act would have closed the loop on the Lilly Ledbetter Act giving women more tools to protect themselves from discrimination. Just as important, employers wouldn’t have been able to retaliate against a female employee if she sued.

But I can’t say I’m devastated or terribly shocked. Because it was clear Republicans weren’t going to give the bill the dignity of a vote. It was clear the drama leading up to the vote was all political theater. As the Washington Post headline dryly noted: “Paycheck Fairness Act fails in the Senate—as expected".

And really, why should women expect to earn the same pay for doing the same job as men? Why should women be able to find out if we’re making the same salary as the guy in the next cubicle, and be able to sue if there’s a yawning gap? Surely that would lead to all manner of frivolous lawsuits and hurt businesses. Never mind about hurting women and their families. The Obama campaign released a stunning statistic noting that women earn over a lifetime a staggering $431,000 less than men.

But I guess if you’re a wealthy male senator, it’s hard to relate. As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky pronounced before the vote: “We’ve got a lot of problems. Not enough lawsuits is not a problem.”

On there not being a problem, here’s what Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the bill’s main sponsor, said about the wage gap:

“In 1963 we made 59 cents for every dollar that men made. Now it’s 77 cents,” she said. “What does that mean? It means every five years we make an advancement of one penny. Oh no. No more. We’re not just going to take it anymore.”

Obama was all about doing the right thing for women. The president even jumped in on a rare conference call with reporters to hammer home his support for the bill. After the bill’s defeat, he released a statement slamming Republicans:

This afternoon, Senate Republicans refused to allow an up-or-down vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act, a common-sense piece of legislation that would strengthen the Equal Pay Act and give women more tools to fight pay discrimination. It is incredibly disappointing that in this make-or-break moment for the middle class, Senate Republicans put partisan politics ahead of American women and their families.

My administration will continue to fight for a woman’s right for equal pay for equal work, as we rebuild our economy so that hard work pays off, responsibility is rewarded, and every American gets a fair shot to succeed.

As for Romney, the Republican presidential nominee behaved in his typically wishy-washy, I-have-no-idea-what-I-really-believe-but-let-me-be-as-calculated-in-my-response-so-that-I-don’t-upset-the-base way or alienate moderates. (Excuse me while I take a breath here.) So while he kept insisting he supported equal pay for women, he refused to say whether he supported the Paycheck Fairness Act.MSNBC host Rachel Maddow for one, tried to nail Romney down in a series of hilarious emails and never did get a straight answer.

On Twitter, the bill’s defeat drew a strong reaction from women’s organizations and politicians:

There were also the usual enlightened remarks about the bill and its female supporters. But what can you expect when you're talking about equality for women?

Credit Image: © Bryan Smith/

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