Women fell two votes short on Wednesday to coming closer to getting paid the same as men for the same work. Senate Republicans decided that equal pay for women should not even be considered, as they blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act from moving to the floor.
The bill, which will not be brought up again in this Congress, faces more of an uphill battle in the next one, with Republicans gaining control of the House and more seats in the Senate.
The Paycheck Fairness Act would have updated the Equal Pay Act of 1963 by closing loopholes, strengthening incentives to prevent pay discrimination and prohibiting retaliation against workers who inquire about employers’ wage practices or disclose their own wages, according to the American Association of University Women, which has been pushing for its passage for ten years. It also would have required employers to show that wage gaps are a result of factors other than gender, to collect better data on wages and develop training for women on salary negotiations.
The House had passed the bill in January 2009 and President Obama had pledged to sign it.
On Wednesday, "a cloture on the motion to proceed," which means a vote to put the bill on the floor for debate, fell two votes short of the required sixty votes. The vote was fifty-eight "yes," forty-one "no" and one, Lisa Murkowski, the Republican senator from Alaska, in her home state and not voting. All Republicans voted "no," along with Ben Nelson of Nebraska, the lone dissenting Democrat.
The vote was decried by AAUW, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Women’s Law Center and other civic and labor organizations that had been pushing for passage.
The AAUW noted that Republicans defeated the proposal, despite "widespread support from the White House and ordinary Americans committed to basic fairness and equality."
"This was a missed opportunity to make history and jump-start real economic change for American women and their families," said AAUW Executive Director Linda D. Hallman. "While the Senate’s action is difficult to comprehend given the stark reality that most families depend on the paychecks of women, our effort to close the pay gap is far from over."
Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said that due to a procedural issue, the matter would not have proceeded to the floor for a vote anyway.
Regan Lachapelle, a spokesperson for Senate majority leader Harry Reid, disagreed, saying if the cloture motion for Paycheck Fairness had passed, it would have moved to the floor.
When asked about the general Republican opposition to the bill, Stewart said, "There was a range of concerns about there not being time for debate or amendments and about potential litigation."
Opponents, including Republicans and the US Chamber of Commerce, have said in the past that they’re concerned the bill would lead to more employees filing suits, which would be costly for employers to have to fight.
That argument has been used in every civil rights issue regarding discrimination, said Deborah Vagins, legislative counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union, part of the coalition pushing for passage. Passing Paycheck Fairness in the new Congress will be "difficult, but not impossible," Vagins said. "There has been other civil rights legislation to fight discrimination that business has supported. This bill really has nothing for businesses to worry about, especially if they’re already complying with the Equal Pay Act." Paycheck Fairness, she explained, is for women working for employers who aren’t in compliance.