Senate GOP Blocks Equal Pay Act For Women

Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked a bill that Democrats say would increase paycheck equity for women. Republican lawmakers argued the bill would put an undue strain on businesses.

Voting 52-47, the Senate fell eight votes short of the 60 necessary to hold an outright vote on the bill. All 47 Republicans in the chamber voted against it, with the exception of Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who was absent.

The bill, dripping with election-year politics, was intended to close a pay gap between women and men by increasing litigation opportunities for women, closing a variety of legal loopholes, strengthening federal enforcement authority and barring employers from retaliating against employees who share pay information with colleagues.

Democrats said the bill would simply increase fairness, citing studies that show American women earn 77 cents for every dollar owned by a man.

The vote on the bill comes two years after Democrats passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which mandated that women should be paid equal to men.

"Republicans want to stick their heads in the sand and ignore the reality that American women experience in the workplace every day," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said after the vote. "The legislation Republicans filibustered today would have built on the Lilly Ledbetter Act to protect women from retaliation from their employers, and ensure they can discuss wage issues freely with their colleagues. This is a common-sense measure with broad public support.

But Republicans said the law would have been redundant - an Equal Pay Act was originally passed in 1963 - and would have assigned employers the unwieldy task of demonstrating to federal investigators why some employees are paid differently than others.

Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., for example, distributed a statement saying the law would "require unprecedented annual compensation reporting to the federal government, provide for unlimited punitive and compensatory damages in employee discrimination lawsuits, and clog the federal court system by fostering more and larger class action lawsuits."

"There is a wide margin between what this bill's supporters say it will do and the actual impact it will have on employers and employees," Johanns said.

"While national unemployment continues to rise, allowing more government intrusion without actually addressing the nearly 8 percent of women who are unemployed and searching for jobs would be tremendously unfortunate. The real winners here would have been the trial lawyers who stand to see a spike in frivolous lawsuits as a result of this bill."

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