Senate Democrats knew they had little chance of passing the Pay Fairness Act on Tuesday, but they see lots of promise for its politics. Blending economics and gender politics, the bill hit the sweet spot of the Democrats election year strategy to target female voters.
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AUDIE CORNISH HOST: And I'm Audie Cornish. Republicans in the Senate blocked a vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act today, a bill aimed at closing pay disparities between men and women. The defeat of the bill is not a surprise. Democrats knew the likely outcome before ever bringing the bill up. But as NPR's Tamara Keith reports, this is an election year when many votes are as much about getting the opposition on the record as passing legislation.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: By now you've heard about the Republican war on women. Democrats don't want voters, particularly coveted female voters, to forget about it. First, there was the issue of contraception. Then came the Violence Against Women Act. You might say the Paycheck Fairness Act is a sequel. Here's Senate majority leader Harry Reid.
SENATOR HARRY REID: It's clear where Democrats stand. We stand for equal pay for equal work and it's time for Republicans to stop denying the reality that millions of women face every day and work with us to give women the pay equality they deserve.
KEITH: Reid also took the opportunity to attack GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney on the issue.
REID: He should show some leadership and tell his fellow Republicans that opposing fair pay for all Americans is shameful.
KEITH: Romney's campaign says he supports pay equity for women, but he did not take a position on the bill. The fact that he and his fellow Republicans had to once again explain their position on women's issues appears to be exactly what Democrats want. In the Senate, they keep bringing up bills related to women, bills they know Republicans don't support.
Nevada Senator Dean Heller was the only Republican to address the Paycheck Fairness Act on the Senate floor today.
SENATOR DEAN HELLER: This proposal couldn't pass when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress. Yet, here we are today voting on the same measure again and again. And those who are actually victims of workplace discrimination are only getting lip service from Washington.
KEITH: And despite all the politics, the bill's author, Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski from Maryland, points out women earn just 77 cents for every dollar made by a man in the same position. She says that's the real war on women.
SENATOR BARBARA MIKULSKI: It's one bullet every paycheck when you're discriminated against. Every time you get a paycheck and you're making less than the next person, that's a war against women.
KEITH: The bill would protect women from retaliation from their employers for trying to seek equal pay. Republicans objected, saying it would lead to frivolous lawsuits. With the war on women narrative apparently likely to continue, House Republicans are trying to get off of defense. They recently launched the women's policy committee, complete with a video featuring GOP women.
(SOUNDBITE FROM VIDEO)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Today, Republican women in Congress are making a real difference.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: We Republican women are working together to create jobs, reduce spending...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Help small businesses and put healthcare decisions back into your hands.
KEITH: It's just another sign of the value placed on female voters this election year. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.