April 7th, 2014
12:44 PM ET
4 years 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. rla

    Study shows that the 77% that women are suppose to make is an average with no consideration for other factor like women take many more part time jobs, often stay at home with children (a fantastic use of time) and other factors!!! When apples are compared to apples the differecce is 98% of what a man makes– No acceptable but really makes the distorter in chief and his propaganda lemmings nothing but what they are - LI-! This is a political argument so like so many things they will say whatever they want to stay in power and pander for votes.

    April 7, 2014 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  2. Bob

    Now equal pay for women. What's next affordable healthcare. When will this madness end.

    April 7, 2014 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  3. rs

    I love this! The President is staking out yet another popular position that the GOP will instinctively run to the wrong side of and will stake out another unpopular position for their party to die on. These guys need a strategist- bad.

    April 7, 2014 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  4. Tampa Tim

    Chris – You forgot, the market is up over twice what it was when the president took over. Gasoline is still not at $4.50 like it was in he last summer of Bush. Unemployment down, housing and auto manufacturing up, uninsured down, the number of wars we are in is down. Number of terrorists are down, the deficit is down to one third of Bush's last deficit. I know, the sky is falling.

    April 7, 2014 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  5. Abbey

    A debacle healthcare law, and now this progressive hillbilly idea. Where do these yokels come from?

    April 7, 2014 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  6. He WHAT?

    Shame Obama didn't lead by example.
    His secretary paid more TAX than he did and she earned less
    Female White House staffers were [paid 20% LESS than their male counterparts
    Unemployment has risen 200% among black women in the last 2 years.

    Once again Obama tries to score political points when HE failed to respect them himself!

    April 7, 2014 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  7. daviddavid

    Recap of "hope and
American economic indicators from Feb, 2009
until Dec, 2013.

    Federal debt has increased by 56% from $10.6 trillion to $16 trillion.

    2. Americans living in poverty have
    increased by 16% from 39.8 million to 46.2

    3. Total unemployment (U6)
    has increased by 68% from 13.7 million to 23
4. Price of gasoline has
    DOUBLED from $1.86/gal to $3.75/gal.

    5. Americans on food stamps have increased
    42% from 31.8 million to 45.2
6. Home foreclosures per year have
    increased by 34% from 850,000 to 1,140,000.

    7. Total bankruptcy filings per
    year have increased by 42% from 1,117,641 to
8. Median Household
    incomes have declined by 4%
9. Average selling price of new homes has declined
    by 10%.

    10. US dollar compared to foreign currencies has declined by 8.7%. [US
index of 85.9 in Jan 2009...

    April 7, 2014 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  8. Jme

    Great....I have female counterparts that make more than I do. Looking forward to the raise.

    April 7, 2014 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  9. Jme

    The women in the White House make less (78 cents to the dollar) than their male counter parts.

    April 7, 2014 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  10. harvty

    Pandering as usual from this ineffectual community organizer.

    April 7, 2014 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  11. Hector Slagg

    I'm sure most businesses want to pay as much as possible. Those that try to beat the system don't last long. It isn't up to the government to set wages. It is up to the private sector to set wages. However if a business has more than one person doing the same job hired at the same time they will most likely pay the same amount. But a person may have to accept a bit less or not be hired. That's he way the cookie crumbles, like it or not.

    April 7, 2014 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  12. Denise

    Bob – It is outlandish! What next, less guns?

    April 7, 2014 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  13. Ol' Yeller

    Who didn't guess ria would be on here screaming shrilly about the President's efforts to fight for equality for women?
    As usual some unnamed study supports her side of the argument... add several exclamation points, some all caps, and call the President a liar and you have your typical tea bagger post.
    All hat and no cattle is what we call that around here, though I suspect in this case it is a 1/2 quart of vodka on top of her double dose of meds she has independently increased since the ACA exceeded the goal.

    April 7, 2014 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  14. vbscript2

    Yet more idiotic posturing from the left. Equal pay for equal work has been the law for decades now. No one opposes that. This is just another ploy to score political points and to help trial lawyers (a major funding source for the DNC) make bank. And, of course, they use completely nonsensical statistics to support it. The supposed 77% *is not for equal work.* It's not taking into account hours worked, education level, years of experience, or even job title. It's directly comparing the salaries of everyone from janitors to secretaries to teachers to engineers to lawyers to doctors. The fact of the matter is that men disproportionately work in higher-paying fields. Studies have shown that factor alone to account for the majority of the gender wage gap and they've also shown years of experience, education level, etc. to account for almost the entire remainder of the difference. When adjusted for these factors, the gender wage gap was negligible.

    April 7, 2014 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  15. Enough is Enough

    @Tampa Tim – Keep telling yourself these fairy tales.....you fail to mention that spending has accelerated under Obama, fewer working age people are in the labor pool and more people are on food stamps than before.

    Now, to this rticle, this is simply another attempt on the part of democrats to buy votes....unfortunately most of the sheep will fall for it.

    April 7, 2014 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  16. 2_indy1600

    NO one doubts the president's political ability. It's the days- late, dollars- short ethical challenge he faces. He is doing everything he can to stay relevant, but this is all for the Queen to come, and it reeks. Everyone working any job in this country should make a minimum of $10 an hour; college grads should make much more. If it "takes a village," you don't
    burn the village down first. Healthcare will go the way of GM.

    April 7, 2014 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  17. The Real Tom Paine

    rlka, I know its escaped your notice, but most women have to work because middle class income has remained at a virtual standstill for a generation. Your " explanation" of why this is an issue purely for political reasons ignores how the economics of the last generation, economics driven by conservative ideals, has made it imperative that women are paid fairly in order to keep what is left of the middle class from disappearing. I'm hopeful that you want the middle class to grow again, but your rhetoric leads me to believe you care more for short-term political points of your own than actually discussing real solutions.

    April 7, 2014 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  18. matt

    Wow. One failure after another.

    April 7, 2014 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  19. Chris-E...al

    @tim read @david david above post and take that to heart its true .

    April 7, 2014 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  20. just saying

    just another issue that nobody cares about but that the democrats can use as a faux election talking point to further con women into voting for them, so they can remain unemployed in the obama-democrat stagnation economy. the only equality obama and the demorcats offer is the equality of misery and poverty.

    April 7, 2014 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  21. 2L


    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.

    How do you know you are underpaid if you don't know what your co-workers are making?

    April 7, 2014 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  22. Anonymous


    @Anonymous-Wasn`t me. However, If the degree was related to the job I would have to agree with your point.
    What point are you agreeing with? I didn't make one. I asked a question, or two. IMHO, they should get paid the same.

    April 7, 2014 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  23. salty dog

    David, George w did pretty good huh, what a total rube, the correct number is closer to 14 trillion, but ho ahead, how's it smell up there? Just can't accept what's staring you in the face? What proposals do the gop have besides screwing the middle class, hungry kids dont need to eat nearly as badly as the top 1% need tax breaks, genius, pure genius. How is it acceptable to rob me of my ss, I paid in over thirty years, you seriously think that's a good plan? Raising the taxable limit all but solved the problem, but oh no, you can't do that to the rich, that is unfair, ignoring record inequality . The top 1% got 95% of the wealth, oh the unfairness of it all.

    April 7, 2014 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  24. Silence DoGood

    @He WHAT?
    Shame Obama didn't lead by example.
    His secretary paid more TAX than he did and she earned less
    I guess math and reading comprehension went out the window along with evolution at this guy's school.
    She paid a little more in tax rate, not tax. It was way less money of course but at a slightly higher tax rate. Which is why Obama was pushing for rich higher earners to pay a higher rate, as it was years ago.

    I cannot be kind here. Do these conservative parrots ever check anything at all? If she had paid more taxes, it would have exceeded her entire income for that year.

    April 7, 2014 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  25. paul reynolds

    The RepubliCons Truly are Tireless and Aggressive Problem Solvers..!
    But ONLY ONE "Problem" the RepubliCons can ever Focus to Solve is that Tragic, Disastrous, Critically Urgent issue for ALL Americans in which the Top 1% Wealthiest, who already Control 72% of ALL $$Wealth, still do Not Have Enough yet.!!

    Yes, they Really SOLVED: How to Loot $TRILLIONS and $TRILLIONS without any Oversight or Hearings by LYING American into 2 Illegal Invasions!!!
    RepubliCons been trying since the First Bush to Solve that one!!

    April 7, 2014 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
1 2 3