“We’re hearing about how women are not returning to the market right now because of a number of reasons, including that they just aren’t getting paid enough to pay for child care and the other challenges they have,” Senate HELP Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the bill’s Senate sponsor, told POLITICO. “So if we want our economy to grow, we need to pay women what they’re worth.”
The bill, voted down 49-50, would have required 60 votes to advance.
Most GOP lawmakers oppose the measure, which they say is redundant and a burden on employers. Gender pay discrimination is already illegal, they point out.
“I don’t think it’s a good bill,” Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.), the top Republican on the Senate HELP Committee, told POLITICO. “We have three statutes on the books that don’t allow pay discrepancy today. We need a fourth one?”
They also worry the language could open up businesses to frivolous lawsuits.
The bill would be “exploiting the cause of pay fairness to send a windfall to trial lawyers,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor Monday.
Women’s annual earnings were 82 percent of their male counterparts’ in 2020, according to the Labor Department. That gap widens dramatically by race: Black and Latina women holding a bachelor’s degree take home 65 percent of what white men with the same level of education do.
The pandemic has exacerbated the disparity, with women disproportionately impacted by layoffs, school closures and a child care shortage. As recently as February, women’s labor force participation rate was 56 percent — the same as it was in 1987, according to the Labor Department.
“The economic crisis that we are starting to come out of due to the pandemic has really hurt working women, especially women of color, and [the Paycheck Fairness Act] will really help women today as they try to recover from this pandemic, get back in the workforce and make sure that they are getting equal pay,” Murray said.
“This should not be a partisan bill,” she added. “Any senator who agrees that women deserve to be paid fairly, for the work they do and who wants our families in our economy to fully recover from the economic harm of this pandemic should [have voted] for this legislation.”
The House passed the legislation 217-210 in April. Just one Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), voted in its favor.
The bill doesn’t have a single GOP sponsor in the Senate.
“At this stage of the game, it is a no,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said. “In my state, we’re a right-to-work state. We’re going to have lots of opportunities over the next couple of years to find consensus on different ideas. If you can’t find consensus on these issues, these aren’t going anyplace. Everybody knows that.”
Democrats are seizing on the failed vote as kindling for their push to eliminate the filibuster.
“Senate Republicans’ decision to block the Paycheck Fairness Act is an insult to the millions of women who are doing the same job as their male counterparts for lower pay,” House Education and Labor Chair Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said. “This is further evidence that the U.S. Senate is no longer a functioning legislative body.”
“When something as simple as ‘equal pay for equal work’ cannot break through Republican obstruction, it is obvious something needs to change,” he added.
This isn’t Democrats’ first unsuccessful bid to get the legislation through the upper chamber. After the House first passed the bill in 2019, Murray attempted to bring it to the Senate floor that April by asking unanimous consent. But former Senate HELP Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) objected to the request, stalling the bill.
“The first vote I took in the Senate was for paycheck fairness, and it is far past time for these inequalities to be addressed,” moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said Tuesday. “As an original cosponsor of this legislation I am disappointed that the Senate was unable to pass this much needed legislation, but I will continue the fight for equal pay across the United States.”