Will Senate Republican Women Support the Paycheck Fairness Act?

A record 98 women will serve in the 113th Congress—20 women in the Senate, and 78 in the House. And in this new Congress, the gender chasm between both major parties is even more stark: Of the 20 women set to serve in the U.S. Senate come 2013, 16 are Democrats; of the 78 women in the House, 58 are Democrats. But Democratic women have indicated a desire to collaborate with their female colleagues across the aisle: Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill recently indicated this, as did New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

Is cooperation possible with respect to the Paycheck Fairness Act, an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 that was rejected by the Senate this past June? So far, all signs point to a resounding “No.” All Democratic women in the Senate supported the Paycheck Fairness Act, while all five Republican women in the Senate rejected it. There is clear evidence that party affiliation, not just gender, are the driving forces behind whether a legislator supports tougher policy to ensure fair pay. The Senate’s heavily partisan vote count on the Paycheck Fairness Act when it was under consideration earlier this year reveals this. Chances of passing the law are a bit better since Democrats have increased their lead in the Senate by two votes—though the law failed by eight votes.

Why did Republican women in the Senate join their party in opposing the Paycheck Fairness Act? The general consensus among Republicans is that the law is simply too tough on employers and that it would pave the way to excessive litigation. Specifically, the Paycheck Fairness Act would restrict an affirmative defense allowed by 1963’s Equal Pay Act. Known as the “factor other than sex” defense, a defense heavily criticized by women’s rights attorneys,  this affirmative defense has enabled employers to withstand liability when they pay male employees more than their female employees based on higher earnings at previous jobs, without evaluating whether the higher earnings are actually rooted in qualifications or higher education. In other words, this defense makes it easier to discriminate. Discrimination is found to be a major cause of the wage gap, along with career and life choices.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would restrict this defense, putting a tougher burden on employers by requiring them to prove that pay disparities are rooted in education, experience or other qualifications. The law gives teeth to the Equal Pay Act which, despite being on the books for 40 years, has not been able to resolve wage discrimination.

Even though discrimination is still a major cause of the overall wage gap and no other law on the books addresses it effectively, Republican women in the Senate, along with the rest of their party, believe that the Equal Pay Act and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act are sufficient. As Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins said after the Senate rejected the Paycheck Fairness Act vote in June:

I support equal pay for equal work.  I voted in favor of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act ….I remain concerned that [the Paycheck Fairness Act] would unnecessarily expose the small business community to excessive litigation, and impose increased costs and restrictions on businesses that are already struggling to create and maintain jobs in this difficult economic environment.

But Collins remarks may give us reason to be hopeful: she along with four of the five Republican women in the Senate—including Olympia Snowe of Maine, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska—did support the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act as well as a 2010 bill targeting pay discrimination that was ultimately rejected. (New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte was the lone Republican woman Senator who refused to support either bill.)

By contrast, the only Republican male to support Lilly Ledbetter was then-Senator Arlen Specter.

These four women Republicans’ tendency to break from their party in support of some types of equal pay measures—along with reproductive rights in some instances—aligns with research from the Center for American Women and Politics’ about the impact of increasing the number of women legislators on policy impacting women, regardless of party affiliation. A study focused on the 103rd Congress showed that regardless of whether they carry a “D” or an “R” after their name, women legislators seek to promote policy that will best serve women, and are more likely to cooperate with women across the aisle.

As Gillibrand said last year, “When we have our dinners with the women in the Senate — the Democrats and Republicans—we have so much common ground. We agree on so many basic principles and values. I think if there were more women at the decision-making table, we would get more things done.”

On the specific question of pay equity—one that can affect women so profoundly over the course of their lives—the Senate’s Democratic women should try their best to pull their Republican women colleagues along with them.

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  • malematters

    Here’s just one example of why on average even the most sophisticated, educated women earn less than their male counterparts in the exact same profession:

    “In 2011, 22% of male physicians and 44% of female physicians worked less than full time, up from 7% of men and 29% of women from Cejka’s 2005 survey.” http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2012/03/26/bil10326.htm

    A thousand laws won’t fix that.

    But women’s advocates always want one more law. That’s because none of the countless laws yet has closed the gender wage gap — not the 1963 Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, not Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, not the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, not the 1991 amendments to Title VII, not affirmative action (which has benefited mostly white women, who share their wealth and affirmative action benefits with white men – http://tinyurl.com/74cooen), not diversity, not the countless state and local laws and regulations, not the horde of overseers at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and not the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act…. Nor will a “paycheck fairness” law work.

    The reason is that women’s pay-equity advocates, who always insist one more law is needed, continue to overlook the effects of female AND male behavior:

    Despite the 40-year-old demand for women’s equal pay, millions of wives still choose to have no pay at all. In fact, according to Dr. Scott Haltzman, author of “The Secrets of Happily Married Women,” stay-at-home wives, including the childless who represent an estimated 10 percent, constitute a growing niche. “In the past few years,” he says in a CNN report at http://tinyurl.com/6reowj, “many women who are well educated and trained for career tracks have decided instead to stay at home.”

    (“Census Bureau data show that 5.6 million mothers stayed home with their children in 2005, about 1.2 million more than did so a decade earlier….” at http://tinyurl.com/qqkaka. Consider also: “a 2007 Pew Study on working mothers revealed that 60 percent of full-time working moms would rather be part-time — up from 48 percent 15 years ago” at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peggy-drexler/dont-call-him-mr-mom-the_b_1573895.html.)
    If indeed women are staying at home at a higher rate, perhaps it’s largely because feminists and the media have told women for years that female workers are paid less than men in the same jobs — so why bother working if they’re going to be penalized and humiliated for being a woman.
    As full-time mothers or homemakers, stay-at-home wives earn zero. How can they afford to do this while in many cases living in luxury? Because they’re supported by their husband, an “employer” who pays them to stay at home.

    The implication of this is probably obvious to 12-year-olds but seems incomprehensible to or is ignored by feminists and the liberal media: If millions of wives are able to accept NO wages, millions of other wives, whose husbands’ incomes range from moderate to high, are able to:

    -accept low wages
    -refuse overtime and promotions
    -choose jobs based on interest first, wages second — the reverse of what men tend to do
    -take more unpaid days off
    -avoid uncomfortable wage-bargaining (http://tinyurl.com/3a5nlay)
    -work part-time instead of full-time

    All of which lower women’s median pay.

    Women are able to make these choices because they are supported — or if unmarried anticipate being supported — by a husband who must earn more than if he’d chosen never to marry. (Still, even many men who shun marriage, unlike their female counterparts, feel their self worth is tied to their net worth.) This is how MEN help create the wage gap: as a group they pass up jobs that interest them for ones that pay well. If the roles were reversed so that men raised the children and women raised the income, men would average lower pay than women.

    From “Will the Ledbetter Act Help Women?” at http://malemattersusa.wordpress.com/2011/12/03/will-the-ledbetter-fair-pay-act-help-women/


  • lokywoky

    I’d say one really good possibility would be Lisa Murkowski.  After what happened during her last election, she is not nearly as beholden to the Republican party as she used to be and has publicly stated that she wishes she had not voted the way she did on several bills that are important to women.

    I think that if the Democratic women such as Sen. Gillibrand continue to reach out to her they may find that she is more willing to vote with women to get more fairness not just on this issue but on many others as well.  Sen. Murkowski learned that she is really supported by her constituents in Alaska and not by the Republican Party who really threw her under the bus for a teabagger and she has been far more independent since.  This is not saying she’s not still very conservative, which she is, but I think there is definitely room to work with her now.