By Justin Sink - 04/08/14 11:17 AM EDT
White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri said Tuesday that the Obama administration "can always do better" at narrowing the wage gap between men and women, after Republicans seized on a study showing that the median female presidential staffer made less than her male counterpart.
"We can always do better by having more women in senior places," Palmieri told MSNBC. "We do a pretty good job at that. We've promoted a lot of women from within; we make that a priority as well, but everybody can always do better."
The controversy over the White House's pay practices erupted this week, with President Obama poised on Tuesday to sign a pair of new executive orders designed to increase transparency over the salaries paid to federal contractors.
Administration officials say the move will reduce pay inequities between women and men, and increase pressure on congressional Republicans to support a bill that would prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who asked their colleagues what they were paid.
But Republicans, who argue the legislation would not address pay inequality, have seized the opportunity to highlight a study released in January that showed a female White House staff member makes on average 88 cents for every dollar made by a man. Women nationally make 77 cents on the dollar by the same measurement.
"That's what we call equal pay for equal work," she continued. "And the reason why that is happening is a lot of businesses don't even allow you to ask your colleagues how much money they are making, so women can't even know what the problem is. So that's the problem the president is trying to address today."
But she also conceded that women also were more likely to seek lower-paid professions.
"A lot of women are not in fields that do particularly well, like engineering and science and tech, and the president is trying to address this," Palmieri said.
At the White House, more women hold lower-paying positions, dragging down the median average for all female workers, even though women in equivalent positions make the same salaries.
"We do also try to recruit people at the younger levels," Palmieri acknowledged. "We're trying to recruit a lot of young women to come work here, a lot of young diverse staff as well, and you want to get people in the pipeline."
But Republicans say Democrats can't cite the median average to argue for their legislation, and then dismiss it when applied to the White House.
“The wage gap is real, but the White House does itself a disservice — and embarrasses itself in the process — by grasping for misleading statistics that don’t tell the whole story,” Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told The New York Times.
Tuesday morning, the Republican National Committee joined with the GOP's House and Senate campaign committees to blast the Democratic bill in a memo to reporters as a "desperate political ploy."
"Democrats are cynically betting that Americans aren’t smart enough to know better," the memo reads. "They’re forgetting the millions of women who belong to the Republican Party who will speak out. They’re missing the fathers, husbands, and sons who believe that women deserve real solutions."