House Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday urged GOP leaders to put their money where their mouths are when it comes to pay equity in the workplace.
The Democrats went after Republicans for refusing to move legislation, dubbed the Paycheck Fairness Act, designed to require businesses to provide equal pay for equal work.
"Women today have … equal education, equal experience, equal training, but unequal pay. This is unacceptable," Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) said during a press briefing in the Capitol. "This is a fairness issue and also an economic issue."
Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Republicans are "AWOL" on the issue and asked for a quick vote.
"There's no reason why the House of Representatives couldn't do this today," he said.
House Republicans sought to pre-empt the Democratic message at their own press conference, as Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) touted their support for “equal pay for equal work” for women.
“On this Equal Pay Day, I would urge us to stop politicizing women,” said McMorris Rodgers, the top-ranking GOP woman in Congress. “And let’s start focusing on those policies that are actually going to help women and everyone in the country have a better life.”
Jenkins called the Democratic criticism of Republican policies toward women “condescending.”
“Let me set the record straight: We strongly support equal pay for equal work,” she said. “And I’m proud that I live in a country where it’s illegal to discriminate in the workplace, thanks to the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“Many ladies I know feel like they are being used a pawns and find it condescending that Democrats are trying to use this issue as a political distraction from the failures of their economic policies,” Jenkins said.
Neither McMorris Rodgers nor Jenkins mentioned the Paycheck Fairness Act. When asked specifically about it, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said current laws needed better implementation, and he pointed instead to other bills House Republicans had passed seeking to allow working mothers and fathers more flexibility to juggle their professional and family responsibilities.
The Democrats' effort to move the Paycheck Fairness Act is part of their broader strategy to highlight bread-and-butter economic issues in hopes of contrasting their plans with those of the Republicans.
The Democrats think their efforts to raise the minimum wage, extend unemployment benefits, provide pay equity between the genders and overhaul the immigration system will appeal to middle class voters and pay dividends at the polls in November.
As part of that effort, President Obama on Tuesday took several actions designed to promote pay equality, including the adoption of an executive order barring federal contractors from retaliating against workers who discuss their pay. Becerra welcomed Obama's unilateral efforts, but warned that, because they're temporary, they're no substitute for legislative action.
"There are things that the president can do that are meaningful for the country," he said, "but it's no substitute … for Congress doing its work."
This post was updated at 2:50 p.m.