Senate Democrats are following up on the White House “Equal Pay Day” dog and pony show yesterday with another push designed to highlight their supposed concern for the plight of female workers. The Paycheck Fairness Act that was put to a vote today had no more chance of passage than it did when it was last introduced before the 2012 election. But as it did that previous time, Democrats are hoping that it will serve to feed their fake “war on women” theme that has helped them gain an advantage with female voters while also helping to distract voters from the president’s second term blues and discontent about the implementation of ObamaCare.
Republicans who underestimate the potential impact of this strategy are making a mistake but GOP senators are right not to take the bait. As tempting as it might have been to let this legislation pass in order to undermine the Democrats’ blatantly political motivations, they were right to hold the line on the bill. Just as “Equal Pay Day” attempts to hype an issue based on misleading statistics, the Paycheck Fairness Act does nothing to address the problem of gender discrimination. Even worse, though it is easily understood as a ploy to solidify female support for President Obama’s party, it is even more of a pander toward one of the mainstays of the Democratic Party: the trial lawyers. The law is geared not so much to address inequality as to make it easy to sue businesses for discrimination without proof. While it’s an open question as to whether these maneuvers may save the Democrats in the midterm elections, allowing this bill to pass would result in a windfall for trial lawyers.
The problem for Republicans is that even though the facts are on their side when it comes to the debate about gender pay discrimination, the emotional advantage is with the president and his followers. It doesn’t matter that the president’s constant spouting of figures that show that women make only 77 percent of what men earn is completely disingenuous. The number is accurate but the differences are accounted for by factors such as job choices, education and the fact that women often choose to take years off from work to raise families and often seek greater flexibility in hours worked than men. The same factors account for the fact that women who work in the White House make less on average than the men there. Yet the White House says the same justifications for its policies don’t apply everywhere else. The reason they can get away with it is that while the numbers are misleading, most women justifiably sense that they are not always treated fairly by men. Thus, to say, as the GOP has been forced to, against laws that won’t help anyone but lawyers, puts them in the position of seeming like a party of vintage male chauvinist pigs.
Republicans rightly argue that the law of the land already forbids gender discrimination. But claiming that even more legislation won’t help things isn’t as persuasive as Obama’s emotional pleas for more fairness. Yet the problem with the Paycheck Fairness Act isn’t just that it is superfluous, it’s that it creates a legal environment in which bogus claims of discrimination can cause havoc in the business world. According to its terms, the burden of proof in such cases will be on the employers to show that they haven’t discriminated rather than on the plaintiffs to prove they have been victimized. This will not only be a gold mine for ambulance-chasing trial lawyers looking to shake down companies with settlements rather than be put through the cost and the agony of a trial but will also discourage merit pay and flexibility in hiring and hours worked — developments that will materially harm hard-working women.
This is a bridge too far for even those female Republican senators who backed past discrimination bills. They know this is simply a payoff to the trial lawyers as well as a transparent political gesture intended to put the GOP on record as opposing an equal pay bill even though such an assertion is a gross distortion of the facts. Standing up for principle is not without cost. News cycles in which talk of gender discrimination and GOP votes against such bills do feed the “war on women” propaganda being spouted on the networks and contribute the the false notion that the Democrats care more about women. Thus, Republicans must reconcile themselves to being hurt by the issue and hope that, in the long run, the truth about the issue will filter out enough to mitigate the damage and allow them to stay on message about ObamaCare and the president’s failed leadership.