Washington -- A bill that aims to close the wage gap between men and women -- an issue championed by Rep. Rosa DeLauro for years -- failed on a procedural vote in the Senate Tuesday.
But the defeat of the "paycheck fairness" bill -- the result of its unanimous rejection by Senate Republicans -- is not a total loss for DeLauro, D-3rd District, who will try to use the loss to argue that Republicans are dismissing the concerns of women.
The skirmish over the bill, which would bar employers from retaliating against workers who complain about pay disparities, is the latest attempt by Democrats in an election year to portray the GOP as hostile to women.
"It is shameful that within the past week Republicans in both chambers of Congress have denied us the opportunity to even debate the Paycheck Fairness Act, to say nothing of having an actual vote on it," DeLauro said.
Besides denying Democrats the 60 votes needed in the Senate to move the bill forward -- today's vote was 52-47 -- Republicans thwarted a Democratic attempt to bring the paycheck fairness bill for a vote in the House last week.
Republicans said they also wanted to end pay discrimination and offered an alternative bill, sponsored by Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev. That bill also protects women who gather information at their workplace about salary disparities, but it does not contain other provisions in the Democratic bill.
"Let me be clear, pay discrimination based on gender is unacceptable," said Heller on the floor of the Senate before the vote. "Despite the political rhetoric around here, everyone agrees on this fact. The question is, will the Paycheck Fairness Act actually address workplace inequality? And the simple answer is no."
The Republican alternative was ignored in the Democratic-majority Senate.
The Democratic legislation would allow women to sue their employers for punitive damages if they find evidence of broad differences in wages or benefits received by male and female workers, and it would make it easier for women who face paycheck discrimination to file class action lawsuits. It would also allow women to apply for federal grants to gather information on wage inequity in their workplace.
Republicans argued that these provisions would unleash a torrent of baseless lawsuits.
DeLauro and other supporters of the Paycheck Fairness Act say women make an average of 77 cents to every dollar earned by a man and that the paycheck fairness bill would help end that disparity.
Approval of the bill is needed to help women cope with economic pressures, she said, noting that it builds upon federal equal pay laws.
"Underlying the financial pressures women face today is the very fact they are paid 77 cents on the dollar," DeLauro said. "They are the breadwinners and the co-breadwinners. They can't afford this economic pressure."
At an impromptu news conference outside the Senate chamber Tuesday, DeLauro and other Democratic women House members joined Lilly Ledbetter, who, in 1998, sued her longtime employer, Goodyear Tire, for paycheck discrimination. She was denied a win by the Supreme Court because she had exceeded the statute of limitations to bring her case.
Congress reacted by approving a bill to extend that statute of limitations.
DeLauro said she is confident the paycheck fairness act will prevail, despite the deadlocked Congress.
"I had the honor of introducing the legislation 15 years ago and we are that close," she said, pinching two fingers together.
Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., voted for the bill Tuesday.
In a floor speech before the vote, Blumenthal said mothers in Connecticut, on the average, earn 40 percent of their family's income.
"The question before this body is, 'Are women worth less than men?'" Blumenthal asked, "And the answer today, and every day, should be 'no.' "