Obama joins Dem blitz before Senate vote on equal pay measure

The White House and congressional Democrats on Monday launched a full-fledged public-relations blitz in support of a paycheck-fairness measure in advance of a key Senate vote on Tuesday. 

President Obama, directly inserting himself into the Capitol Hill debate over pay discrepancies between men and women, joined other Democrats in urging the Senate to move forward on a bill that he said would both promote fairness and help the economy. 

And with Senate Republicans widely expected to block the paycheck measure on Tuesday, Obama also signaled that Democrats are ready and willing to use that vote against the GOP as both sides hunt for support from women this campaign season.

“Women are the breadwinners for a lot of families, and if they’re making less than men do for the same work, families are going to have to get by for less money for childcare and tuition and rent; small businesses have fewer customers,” Obama said on a Monday conference call. “Everybody suffers.” 

Polling currently suggests that the president has a healthy lead over presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney among female voters, something Democrats believe was helped by fights this year over contraception coverage in the healthcare law. 

The Democratic effort on paycheck fairness also comes on the heels of a weak employment report, with the 69,000 jobs added in May stoking fears among Democrats about Obama’s chances this fall.

 Democratic lawmakers on Monday used Friday’s jobs numbers as part of their pitch to Republicans, while urging Romney to come out explicitly for or against the measure. 

“The pay gap is directly holding back many households’ purchasing power,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on a separate Monday conference call. “This is about jobs, and the economy, and creating and preserving a middle class.”

As it stands, women make roughly 77 cents for every dollar collected by men in similar positions, with figures even lower for blacks and Hispanics. 

Supporters of the paycheck bill have said it is needed to build on both the Equal Pay Act, passed almost a half-century ago, and the 2009 law named after Lilly Ledbetter, who sued Goodyear after being paid less than her male counterparts.

Under the bill, employers that pay women less than men would have to prove their actions were necessary for their business and would be barred from retaliating against workers who talk about their salaries with colleagues.

Democrats fell short of pushing a version of the bill through in 2010, when they held healthy majorities in the House and Senate.

But even with her chamber now more closely divided, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who introduced the latest version of the measure, said she thought Democrats were “very close” to corralling the 60 votes they need to move it forward.

Republicans, meanwhile, have tossed a variety of criticisms at the bill, including that Democrats had said they had equalized pay for women with the Lilly Ledbetter law. 

Business groups and Republicans have also said that the measure would give the government too much say in how businesses are run and employees are compensated. 

A Romney spokeswoman reiterated on Monday that the former Massachusetts governor supported equal pay for women, but did not comment directly on the Senate bill.