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GOP foolish to block equal pay law

Published April 11. 2014 4:00AM

When it comes to the race for control of the U.S. Senate, Republicans may yet figure out a way not to win.

At this early date, political prognosticators seem to agree that odds favor a Republican takeover of the Senate. More Democratic-held seats are up for grabs and many appear vulnerable. And it hasn't been a good past year for the top Democrat, President Obama. Republicans are eager to link him with every Democrat seeking election.

There is still unease among voters over the rollout of Obamacare. The president's handpicked delays in various aspects of the health care law, his gaffe in promising everyone could keep their health care plans if they liked them (you can't keep the next-to-useless ones), and the mandate that people must get insurance or pay a penalty, are all ripe for made-for-TV political attack ads.

Mix in continuing unease with the economy which, while picking up, is still sluggish with progress alluding much of the working class, and sprinkle in concern over the president's foreign policy, and Republicans have reason for optimism.

The problem for them is that Republicans in Congress appear intent on alienating half the voters, or at least a good chunk of them.

On Wednesday, Senate Republicans blocked a debate on the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that has the radical goal of ferreting out and ultimately bringing an end to wage discrimination against women. Fighting to retain unequal pay does not appear the best foundation on which to build a campaign - at least in a country where women can vote.

The party line vote - 53-44 - with Republicans universally against and Democrats in favor, fell short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster. GOP leaders said they voted against the bill not because they want women to continue receiving less pay for the same work, but because they predict it will lead to more lawsuits and so is anti-business.

Of course, one could say the same thing about every labor and civil rights law passed to end injustice and unfair treatment.

Points are due for consistency. Senate Republicans have blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act twice before.

The bill, if ever passed, would prohibit retaliation against employees who share salary information with other workers. The intent is to end a culture of silence that allows some workplaces to hide discriminatory pay policies. It would also require the Department of Labor to collect wage data from employers, broken down by gender and race. Employers would have to demonstrate that wage differentials between men and women in the same jobs is a result of reasons other than gender.

Often cited is U.S. Census Bureau data showing women who work full time earn an average of 77 cents for every dollar men earn. A more informative statistic, however, is the data comparing men and women with the same education and experience levels working the same jobs. In that apples-to-apples comparison, there is still a roughly 8 percent gap.

Raising the issue now is part of a Democratic strategy to peel away women votes going into an election cycle in which things are not looking good for them. However, that does not make the goal - equal pay for equal work - any less valid.

What is interesting is how willing the Republicans remain to play along with this Democratic game plan. Republicans offer no alternatives to achieve the equal-pay goal; they just say no and side with business.

"Republicans are foolish to cede this issue to Democrats," said Lisa Matz, the vice president of government relations at the American Association of University Women, speaking to reporters about the Senate vote.

Republicans also stand in the way of an increase in the federal minimum wage, which has greater implications for women, who hold a higher percentage of the low-pay jobs.

"Many ladies I know feel like they are being used as pawns and find it condescending Democrats are trying to use this issue as a political distraction from the failures of their economic policy," said Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., at a press conference.

News flash, Rep. Jenkins, more women find it condescending that they are getting paid less than the guys next to them doing the same jobs and that the Republican Party is OK with that.

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