Democrats' equal pay bill a no-go in Senate

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked a Democratic bill calling for equal pay in the workplace. But President Barack Obama and his congressional allies aren’t finished appealing to women on the No. 1 concern for all voters: the cash in their wallets on the heels of recession.

As expected, the pay equity bill failed along party lines, 52-47, short of the required 60-vote threshold. But for majority Democrats, passage wasn’t the only point. The debate itself was aimed at putting Republicans on the defensive on yet another women’s issue.

“It is incredibly disappointing that in this make-or-break moment for the middle class, Senate Republicans put partisan politics ahead of American women and their families,” Obama said in a statement after the vote.

“Even Mitt Romney has refused to publicly oppose this legislation,” added Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “He should show some leadership.”

Unlike past taunts over access to contraception and abortion, Republicans this time didn’t take the bait.

In Fort Worth, Texas, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee focused instead on unemployment among Hispanics.

“Of course Gov. Romney supports pay equity for women,” said Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg. “In order to have pay equity, women need to have jobs, and they have been getting crushed in this anemic Obama economy.”

The device for the choreographed showdown in Washington was a Senate debate over the “Paycheck Fairness Act,” a measure that aims to strengthen the Fair Labor Standards Act’s protections against pay inequities based on gender.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., would require employers to prove that differences in pay are based on qualifications, education and other “bona fides” not related to gender. It also would prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who ask about, discuss or disclose wages in response to a complaint or investigation. And it would make employers who violate sex discrimination laws liable for compensatory or punitive damages. Under the bill, the federal government would be exempt from punitive damages.

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