Washington (CNN) – President Barack Obama will go back to the first law he signed as president on Tuesday, 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 an 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.
Tuesday's executive orders are just as much about politics as policy.
Democrats feel that equal pay is a winning issue in the 2014 midterm elections. Obama 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.
Many Republicans, however, 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 Peter Hamby contributed to this report.