April 7th, 2014
12:44 PM ET
4 months ago

Democrats highlight equal pay in political push

Washington (CNN) - From the White House to Capitol Hill to the campaign trail, Democrats are planning an across-the- board push on paycheck equality on Tuesday, the party's first large-scale coordinated effort on the issue ahead of November's midterm elections.

The full-court press by the White House, congressional Democrats and party officials, comes on National Equal Pay Day, which reflects how far into the current year women must work to match what men earned in the previous year.

Democrats seize on equal pay as midterm issue

President Barack Obama on Tuesday will go back to the first law he signed as President, addressing equal pay with two new executive actions that satisfy both policy and political priorities within the White House.

According to a White House official, Obama's executive actions will focus on "pay secrecy," the idea that women who are paid less than their male counterparts may not know it because they don't know what other employees are making.

"If women do not even know that they are underpaid, they cannot take steps to remedy the pay gap," said the official. "For example, Lilly Ledbetter was paid less than her male co-workers for decades without realizing it until someone took a risk and slipped her an anonymous note."

When Obama entered the White House in 2009, the first law he signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a law named for the Alabama grandmother who became a champion for equal pay after men in her Goodyear plant doing similar work had been paid up to 40% more.

The law allowed a victim of pay-based discrimination to file a complaint to the government within 180 days of their most recent paychecks, as opposed to within 180 days of the first "unfair" paycheck.

The first executive order Obama will sign will prohibit "federal contractors from retaliating against employees who choose to discuss their compensation," according to the White House official. The second order will ask the secretary of labor to establish new requirements for federal contractors to submit summaries of pay data, including a breakdown of sex and race.

"The Department of Labor will use the data to encourage voluntary compliance with equal pay laws, and allowing more targeted enforcement by focusing efforts where there are discrepancies, reducing burdens on other employers," the official added.

White House not immune from issue

Even the White House acknowledges it is not immune to pay inequity. Asked by reporters about a recent American Enterprise Institute study finding female White House staffers make 88 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn, Carney did not deny the administration has its own challenge with the issue.

"At the 88 cents that you cite, that is not 100, but it is better than the national average," Carney said.

Carney noted there are several women in key roles at the White House, from National Security Adviser Susan Rice to Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri.

"When it comes to the bottom line that women who do the same work as men have to be paid the same, there is no question that that is happening here at the White House at every level," Carney said.

Coordinated effort

In coordination with the events at the White House, the Democratic National Committee is putting out a video on equal pay, as well as making a push on social media.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee says it will run web, Twitter and Facebook ads using the hashtag #GOPPayGap to "highlight instances in which GOP Senate candidates have come out as opposed to equal pay."

"The DSCC's 'GOP PAY GAP' campaign will hold Republican Senate candidates accountable for their baseless and partisan opposition to equal pay for equal work," said Regan Page, DSCC spokeswoman.

And Emily's List, a major outside group that's dedicated to electing pro-Democratic female candidates, says it will be "engaging our EMILY's List network of 3 million with a petition," on equal pay and will team up with the DNC and Hispanic leaders to "highlight the Latina paygap – 54 cents on the dollar."

On Capitol Hill, the Democratic-controlled Senate is expected to vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act on Wednesday. While the legislation has a fair chance of passing the Senate, the bill that has no chance of making it through the Republican-dominated House of Representatives.

Midterm politics at play

The push is just as much about politics as policy.

Democrats feel that equal pay is a winning issue in the 2014 midterm elections. The President worked the issue into his last State of the Union address when he demanded Congress pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. Obama called the income disparity between genders an "embarrassment" and proclaimed that "women deserve equal pay for equal work."

Democratic strategists also see equal pay as a way to galvanize the base and raise money in a midterm election that will see less turnout and excitement than a presidential election year. By keeping the issue in the news, Democrats hope to benefit in the long term by showcasing GOP presidential hopefuls who oppose equal pay protections.

According to CNN national exit polls, Democrats won the female vote 56%-43% in the 2008 presidential election and by 55%-44% in Obama's 2012 reelection. But the GOP narrowly edged out the Democrats among women 49%-48% in the 2010 midterms, when Republicans, thanks to a landslide 63-seat pick up, won back the House, and made a major dent in the Democrats' Senate majority.

GOP side of the story

The Republican National Committee points out that it supports equal pay.

"All Republicans support equal pay for equal work. And while we all know workplace discrimination still exists, we need real solutions that focus on job creation and opportunity for women. The truth is the 'Paycheck Fairness Act' is a desperate political ploy and Democrats are cynically betting that Americans aren't smart enough to know better. The "Paycheck Fairness Act" doesn't provide paycheck fairness for women, instead it cuts flexibility in the work place for working moms and ends merit pay that rewards good work-the very things that are important to us," RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski told CNN.

And many in the GOP see laws like the Lilly Ledbetter Act and Paycheck Fairness Act as an effort to "help trial lawyers collect their fees and file lawsuits," as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said in 2012 about the Ledbetter law. Another 2016 hopeful, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, said the Paycheck Fairness Act would interfere with the free market.

CNN's National Political Reporter Peter Hamby and CNN Senior Congressional Producer Ted Barrett contributed to this report.


Filed under: 2014 • President Obama • Senate • White House
soundoff (57 Responses)
  1. Rosslaw

    We will now hear how equal pay conflicts with the right's sincere religious believes that women enjoy the same status as cattle.

    April 7, 2014 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  2. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    And since we're on the subject... Equal pay for blacks and whites. Blacks are always hired at a lower wage than whites. Experience or not.

    April 7, 2014 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  3. Tampa Tim

    Hey wingnuts – in 2009, U 6 was 14.2, now it is below 12.7. Where are you getting your faux talking points.

    April 7, 2014 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  4. Tampa Tim

    In the last summer of Bush, we enjoyed gasoline at $4.50 a gallon. Stock market under 700o when Obama took over.

    April 7, 2014 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  5. Tampa Tim

    Bankruptcy rates have fallen over 32% since 2008. I think you wingnuts are lying again.

    April 7, 2014 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  6. Tampa Tim

    daviddavid – Where are you getting this stuff?

    April 7, 2014 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  7. Martus

    There are as many top 1% Democrats as Republicans.
    Liberals who blame the 1% for their own failures cannot vote for Hillary without being hypocrites.

    The idea that women earn less in the same jobs as men is a myth. (source: The Gender Pay Gap Is a Myth
    By Steve Tobak)

    The Obama administration is still paying women less than men.

    April 7, 2014 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
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