The GOP “War on Women” has taken many forms but Senate Democrats are now determined to fight back, pushing for the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA) which is legislation that protects women who sue when they discover they are being paid less than their male counterparts. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has said the vote will take place on Monday, June 4th (now said to be Tuesday, June 5th).
In an ideal world, the PFA wouldn’t cause a Democrat vs. Republican fight, as it is an obvious necessity and a step toward equality for all citizens. But in this hyper-partisan environment, anything that seeks to make the playing field more level for women becomes a battle The PFA is supposed to help end pay discrimination for women by closing loopholes that make it very difficult to enforce fair pay labor laws. Legislation would prohibit employer retaliation, allow workers to join class action lawsuits, as well as ensure that the victims received back pay from discriminatory employers. For some women the difference in pay for a man that does the same job can add up to $24,000 dollars a year in lost wages and nearly $431,000 over the course of a lifetime.
Here’s the thing: as it stands now the Senate vote on the PFA is going to be very close—but it is not expected to pass. The importance of the act in framing the debate in key Senate races however cannot be understated. For example, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) has promised to make this fight to pay equity a central tenet of her re-election campaign. Another key Senate race where the PFA will take center stage is the race to watch in Massachusetts between Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) and Harvard Law Professor and democratic darling Elizabeth Warren. In 2010, Senator Brown voted against a previous component of PFA and that vote will allow Warren to attack him hard for being against pay equity at a time when the war on women is in full swing.
PFA may also be a factor in the presidential race. Republican challenger Mitt Romney has yet to even take a position on the legislation. After his reluctant support of the Lily Ledbetter Act, Romney is under an intense microscope to seem supportive of the issues that matter most to women voters. No matter what some outlier polling suggests, the gender gap between Romney and President Obama is real and Romney needs to be able to come up with a response more satisfying than, “no comment.”
Pay equity is a huge issue and it deserves more attention certainly from male politicians who are running to represent women. If it’s not a big concern for them then women should take note and vote them out. It’s 2012, and there is no more time for women to settle for less.
Zerlina Maxwell is a political analyst and soon-to-be attorney. You can follow her on Twitter: @ZerlinaMaxwell