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. rs

    Predictable GOP responses:
    1. There is no inequality in women's pay (it's just all that time-off they get for having kids).
    2. Equal pay will mean men will lose jobs or get paid less.
    3. It's a "job killer" for everyone.
    4. It violates their "sincerely held religious beliefs".
    5. Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi!

    April 7, 2014 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  2. Thomas

    This will not go over big in the Roberts court .

    campaign finance laws should not impact those making less the minimum wage .

    April 7, 2014 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  3. Gurgyl

    Raise minimum wage. Watch oil and food prices. Milk 4/ is silly and damn ridiculous...

    April 7, 2014 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  4. smith

    If two workers have joined that particular job at the same time and the results of their work and ethics are the same, then pay should be equal.

    April 7, 2014 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  5. salty dog

    More pesky regulations, huh rwnj?

    April 7, 2014 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  6. Tony D

    Equal pay? Does everybody give equal effort? Does everybody give equal sacrifice? Does everybody have eqial education? Does everybody have equal experience and knowledge?

    When are people in this country going to wise up to the fact all the Democrats have is BS divisiveness when it comes to running their elections? They promise these insane things that in reality are impossible. Do you want a federal government enforcing what it believes to be fair and equal? We have already seen that with bogus affirmative action laws that deny the best and brightest spots in college for less qualified people to take the spots.

    April 7, 2014 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  7. Tampa Tim

    Well that ought to anger the republican followers of the American Taliban.

    April 7, 2014 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  8. barryinlasvegas

    The most recent available data on White House pay, the White House paid women an estimated 11.8 percent less than men in 2013. The year prior White House paid women 13 percent less than men — and in 2011, according to the Free Beacon, women were paid 18 percent less.
    To be sure, all the analyzed years were better than what the federal government says is the current wage gap: 23

    April 7, 2014 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  9. barryinlasvegas

    Obama continues to be the biggest hypocrite to occupy the White House.
    The most recent available data on White House pay, the White House paid women an estimated 11.8 percent less than men in 2013. The year prior White House paid women 13 percent less than men — and in 2011, according to the Free Beacon, women were paid 18 percent less.
    To be sure, all the analyzed years were better than what the federal government says is the current wage gap: 23

    April 7, 2014 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  10. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA - Take Back the House

    Republicans claim they're not waging a war on women, but watch majority of them oppose this measure.

    April 7, 2014 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  11. CALIFORNIA

    Obama looks to close wage gap while paying female staffers less than men
    3:43 PM 04/06/2014
    -----
    Can't make this stuff up.

    April 7, 2014 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  12. Anonymous

    smith

    If two workers have joined that particular job at the same time and the results of their work and ethics are the same, then pay should be equal.
    ------------------
    Was it you? Not to long ago you argued that pay should be based upon what people "bring to the table". What if one worker had a colleged degree, and the other a GED? Should pay still be equal?

    April 7, 2014 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  13. S.B. Stein

    It would be nice if the RNC would let their supporters know to stop screwing around and ket people rise regardless of gender. I don't see why they don't publicly say that.

    April 7, 2014 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  14. Tampa Tim

    Republicans will always be known for uniting the country by going after veterans benefits, cutting seniors programs and benefits, not standing up for the American workers wages, cutting money from veterans on food stamps, cutting benefits for the poor, refusing to have a sensible immigration policy, cutting students opportunities, and refusing to allow the uninsured health care, while supporting tax breaks for the wealthy. That ought to unite billionaires to the GOP.

    April 7, 2014 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  15. Rick McDaniel

    Do an equal job, you get equal pay. Those who claim they don't need to have the duties examined closely, to see if they are actually DOING the same job, with the same duties, and responsibilities. Title of the job, means nothing.

    April 7, 2014 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  16. ProudDem

    barryinlasvegas

    The most recent available data on White House pay, the White House paid women an estimated 11.8 percent less than men in 2013. The year prior White House paid women 13 percent less than men — and in 2011, according to the Free Beacon, women were paid 18 percent less.

    That sounds like steady improvement to me.

    April 7, 2014 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  17. smith

    @Gurgyl-Your saying price wouldn`t rise with an increase. The explain where that money would come from to pay for the raise.

    April 7, 2014 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  18. u laby

    We're coming up on 18 Trillion in national debt and this is the "big issue" of the day. We're lost as a nation.

    April 7, 2014 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  19. Malory Archer

    rs

    Predictable GOP responses:
    1. There is no inequality in women's pay (it's just all that time-off they get for having kids).
    2. Equal pay will mean men will lose jobs or get paid less.
    3. It's a "job killer" for everyone.
    4. It violates their "sincerely held religious beliefs".
    5. Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi!

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    You forgot "women are 'too busy' to worry about equal pay issues". A female rethug politician ACTUALLY SAID THAT!!! Guess she doesn't realize that if women were paid the same as men, perhaps they wouldn't BE so busy as they wouldn't need to work more hours to make the same amount of $$$.

    April 7, 2014 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  20. Chris

    Yeah! Another smoke screen for the President. Equal pay really? Why would you work for someone if you are not receiving equal pay? Find somewhere that will pay you what YOUR PERFORMANCE is worth.

    April 7, 2014 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  21. Chris-E...al

    Yes gas prices are up ! Putins mad ! food is up ! Electric and water is up ! Heating oil is up even more ! Durable goods are up ! diesel fuel is up ! Shipping cost are up . Healthcare is up for M0ST ! borrowing money is going to go way up ! printing cash is the in thing ! Postage is up ! And the dems say they are for the ppl ! And americans are fed up ! This will not stand .

    April 7, 2014 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  22. smith

    @Anonymous-Wasn`t me. However, If the degree was related to the job I would have to agree with your point.

    April 7, 2014 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  23. GUTSY333

    President Obama equal pay proposal is needed, especially given the high number of divorces and mothers being left to support children. Also the unemployment has made it hard for men to pay alimony, so their former wives have to work to support their kids. Women like them get all the responsibilities, but not enough money until now that President Obama has the wisdom and compassion to solve the women's plight.

    April 7, 2014 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  24. The Real Tom Paine

    Tony D, the only BS divisiveness in recent years has come from your lot, and you know it. Equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender, is right. Hiring managers take factors like experience, education, and other things into account before making an offer to a candidate, and you know this. You are simply ranting because you know your side is on the wrong side of an issue, yet again, so you have to manufacture something to justify your BS divisiveness.

    April 7, 2014 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  25. jsmoulder

    An issue to try and distract people from the failure of obamacar.

    April 7, 2014 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
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