WASHINGTON -- Democrats' push for pay equity between men and women is "condescending," one of the top women in the House Republican leadership argued Tuesday, suggesting that the campaign for equal pay for equal work reflects a lack of understanding of women's contributions to the workforce.
Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.), the GOP conference's vice chair, made her comments flanked by her fellow leaders in the House at their weekly news conference, and suggested that the campaign for equal pay for equal work reflects a lack of understanding of women's contributions to the workforce.
"Please allow me to set the record straight. We strongly support equal pay for equal work, 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," said Jenkins. "Some folks don't understand that women have become an extremely valuable part of the workforce today on their own merit, not because the government mandated it."
Jenkins went on to belittle Democratic efforts on the issue.
"Many ladies I know feel like they are being used as pawns, and find it condescending [that] Democrats are trying to use this issue as a political distraction from the failures of their economic policy," Jenkins said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday morning, appeared to slam the Democrats' push as cheap political showmanship and accuse Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who had just addressed the issue, of playing games.
"Yesterday, here in the Senate, Republicans were hoping the Democrat Majority Leader would finally work with us to pass a job creation package that contains ideas from many of our members — legislation with provisions several key Democrats support too," McConnell said. "But that’s not what the Majority Leader chose to do. Instead of focusing on jobs, he launched into another confusing attack on the Left’s latest bizarre obsession. Democrats chose to ignore serious job-creation ideas so they could blow a few kisses to their powerful pals on the left."
However, shortly after this story was posted, McConnell's office said his remarks were being misconstrued. Spokesmen pointed to his use of the word "yesterday," and said that he had been referencing Reid's Monday speech targeting the billionaire Koch brothers, rather than his procedural motion, also on Monday, to begin work on the Democrats' Fair Pay Act.
According to many independent assessments, women who do the same job as a man are often paid significantly less, on average earning just 77 cents to a man's dollar. Even when many of the factors that lead women to make different job choices are controlled for, significant gaps remain.
Jenkins did not address the issue of women getting paid less for the same job, but suggested that women simply tend to choose different jobs.
"When it comes to employment, the fact is many women seek jobs that provide more flexibility for their family over more money, which is the choice that I made as a young working mom," Jenkins said.
Jenkins' and McConnell's opinions notwithstanding, women overwhelmingly backed the Democratic ticket in the last election, running up the largest gender gap in the history of Gallup polling. Women supported President Barack Obama over GOP nominee Mitt Romney by a 12-point margin.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) chose his words more carefully than his colleagues at the press event when asked whether there was anything in terms of legislation that Republicans would consider doing to address the gap.
Though Cantor demurred from offering new ideas, he did tweak the White House, noting reports that women working there get paid about 88 cents on the dollar, compared to men.
He said a better idea than passing new laws was trying to enforce the old ones.
"I point to the White House, and say what it is that they're doing? They've got a problem in the White House," said Cantor. "Let's put the politics aside."
He suggested that repealing part of Obamacare would help, and pointed to a bill the House GOP passed last week that would change the definition of full-time work in the law from 30 hours a week to 40.
"If you look to see those most impacted, it's women. Sixty-three percent of those impacted by the 30-hour workweek rule are women," Cantor said. "If the Senate Democrats would pick [the bill] up, we could help women right now."
Under the Affordable Care Act, employers must provide health insurance for full-time workers, currently defined as people employed more than 30 hours per week. Republicans argue that because of that, employers are pushing people -- in this case, mostly women -- into part-time work, although independent fact-checkers have found that claim to be false.
This article was updated after a spokesman for McConnell clarified the intended meaning of his remarks.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.