Why Did the Paycheck Fairness Act Get Voted Down?

No one is really against equal pay for equal work -- are they?On the surface, it seems like something on which both Democrats and Republicans could agree: There's a gender gap in the workforce, and it needs to be addressed. Women earn 77 cents for every dollar men earn -- 64 cents for African American women and 56 cents for Latinas -- which adds up to a loss of about $431,000 over the course of their professional lives. No one, on either side of the aisle, wants women to be discriminated against in the workplace.

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And yet, the Paycheck Fairness Act failed in the Senate on Tuesday. The procedural vote was along party lines, with 46 Republicans voting against it, 50 Democrats voting for it, two independent senators joining the Democrats, and Republican Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois not voting at all, The Hill reported. The bill needed 60 votes in order to pass; Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada changed his vote to "no" in order to bring the bill up again later.

"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," President Barack Obama said in a statement after the vote. "Despite the progress that has been made over the years, women continue to earn substantially less than men for performing the same work. 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."

Republicans have pointed out equal pay issues were supposed to have been taken care of with the Lilly Ledbetter Law, which Obama signed in 2009, and argued that Paycheck Fairness Act represented massive government overreach.

"Let me be clear, pay discrimination based on gender is unacceptable," Republican Senator Dean Heller of Nevada said Tuesday, before the vote. "Despite the political rhetoric around here, everyone agrees on this fact. The question is, will the Paycheck Fairness Act actually address workplace inequality? And the simple answer is no."

Under the Paycheck Fairness Act, businesses would have had to prove that a wage gap was job related, rather than gender based, and women who sued for discrimination could be awarded punitive damages. Businesses also would be prevented from punishing employees who discussed their salaries with their colleagues. Heller has introduced his own bill, the End Pay Discrimination Through Information Act, which, unlike the Paycheck Fairness Act, does not include a provision that would allow the federal government to collect salary information or provide federal grants to help women learn better salary-negotiation skills, The Hill reported.

The Obama administration has spent days wooing women before Tuesday's vote, calling the Paycheck Fairness Act "commonsense legislation that strengthens the Equal Pay Act and would give women the tools they need to fight pay discrimination."

"I don't have to tell you how much this matters to families across the country," the President said during a conference call on Monday."This is more than just about fairness. Women are the breadwinners for a lot of families and if they're making less than men do for the same work, families are going to have to get by for less money."

Democrats expected the bill to fail, so what did Tuesday's vote really mean? Not much. As the Washington Post points out, it was part of an increasingly common strategy: voting on legislation mainly to prove a political point. For Democrats, that means focusing on women's rights and the so-called "war on women"; for Republicans, it's the budget, fiscal responsibility, and the economy.

Comments made after the vote seemed to underscore the tactic.

"We've got a lot of problems," Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said. "Not enough lawsuits is not a problem."

"It is a very sad day here in the United States Senate, but it's a sadder day every day when paycheck day comes and women continue to make less than men," Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland countered. "We're sorry that this vote occurred strictly on party lines."

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