In a not-so-surprising move, Republican senators, including all four Republican women, unanimously voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act on Monday night. The law would make it easier for employees to talk about wages—and potentially help women learn whether they earn less than their male colleagues. It would also force employers to explain or justify why two similarly qualified workers earn different wages.
This is the third time since 2012 that Republicans have voted down the bill.
Pay disparities between women and men are a reality. Recent research suggests that in some industries—such as finance—women earn as little as 66 percent of men’s wages. Overall women take home about 71 cents for every dollar men earn.
Low-income women also suffer from gender-based wealth disparities. According to the National Women’s Law Center, the poverty rate for women is 13 percent, while only 11 percent of men live in poverty. Women in low-wage jobs make 13 percent less than men who do similar work.
To pass the legislation, the Democrats needed 60 votes; they only got 52 (every Democrat voted in favor of the law). Some wondered if centrist or women senators would cross the aisle—they did not. Why not? Kelly Ayotte, a Republican senator from New Hampshire, said that she voted against the law because she worried it would prohibit merit-based pay—one of the main Republican gripes against the bill. She also criticized Democrats for opposing her amendment to the legislation.
There are already a few equal-pay laws on the books that purport to protect women from discrimination in pay. But many progressive legislators feel that the gender wage gap indicates these laws aren’t working well enough.
Susan Collins, a Republican senator from Maine, disagrees. After a June vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act failed in the Senate, she said she believed the Civil Rights Act and the 1963 Equal Pay Act provide enough protection.
“I think this bill would result in excessive litigation that would impose a real burden, particularly on small businesses. So I think existing laws are adequate,” Collins said, according to The Huffington Post.
Also, maybe a woman gets paid less because she’s, well, a woman, Collins continued. “In other cases, [wage disparity] may be due to personal decisions that women make to leave the workforce to raise children for a number of years and then return to the workforce, for example.” Let’s not all jump to conclusions, Collins warned. “I don’t think you can assume discrimination,” she said.
Republicans have said this law makes it too easy for employees to sue businesses or corporations, and they are also mad at Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, for putting it forward for a second time this year, and doing so one week before the House and the Senate recess for midterm elections.
“It’s politics,” said Republican Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska. “It’s a one-sided vote for political reasons, so [Democrats] can use it in campaigns.”
Voting or acting against their political self-interest is a thing that some women do. Women opposed the Equal Rights Amendment and the suffrage movement. They always have their reasons, but in this case the reasons seem mighty cynical.
The Republican women in the Senate, like all Congress members except the Speaker of the House and minority and majority leaders, earn $174,000 a year. That’s 4.6 times women workers’ median yearly income but only 3.5 times that of working men.
With equal pay for equal work, it appears that these Republicans can afford to play politics with other women’s economic security.