Not everyone is aware that Tuesday was Equal Pay Day, marking how much extra time women would have to work into 2014 to earn as much as men. It’s an important day for Democratic activists seeking to highlight the discrepancy in wages. Women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, and equal pay for equal work, a slogan that dates back to the early suffragists, is enjoying renewed resonance.
Democrats dusted off their Paycheck Fairness Act for a vote Wednesday, the third attempt for the legislation, which failed in 2010 and 2012. Sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the bill has 52 co-sponsors, all Democrats. Not even Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, often allies on women’s issues, are stepping up on this one.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared to couple his criticism of the pay equity bill with his fury at Majority Leader Harry Reid’s attacks on the conservative Koch brothers. All that Democrats are doing, McConnell said, is trying to “blow a few kisses to their powerful pals on the left.” He characterized Reid’s tactics as a “bizarre obsession” and said it’s part of the Democrats’ “never-ending political road show.”
The reaction was instantaneous. The Democratic political committees, Emily’s List, which helps elect pro-choice women, and Democrats across the board jumped on McConnell. With women a key demographic heading into the midterm elections, Democrats are hoping that Republicans who say such things will revive the “war on women” meme that brought women to the polls in the last election. President Obama won reelection on the strength of a strong gender gap, and Democrats need to duplicate those numbers in key Senate races in November.
McConnell’s office maintains that his words about blowing kisses were meant for the Koch brothers and shouldn’t be taken as a slur against women, and he appeared at a press conference with Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer at his side. One of just four Republican women senators, she is aiming to offer an amendment to the Paycheck Fairness Act that she says will help women combat wage discrimination in the workplace by reinforcing current laws and giving employers more flexibility in setting pay scales.
A survey released Tuesday by the Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund and Democracy Corps finds that pay equity is a potent issue for Democrats heading into the midterms. In response to the statement “Women succeed with pay equity and equal health insurance,” 65 percent of likely women voters responded favorably; 82 percent of unmarried women were positive; and 76 percent of the Rising American Electorate, young people and minorities, responded favorably. These are the voters who reelected Obama and whom Democrats must inspire to turn out to hold their majority in the Senate.
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