WASHINGTON -- Senate Republicans have blocked debate on the Paycheck Fairness Act on all three previous occasions it has been brought to the floor. But they changed their strategy on Wednesday, voting for the first time ever to allow debate on the equal pay legislation.
The bill needed 60 votes to overcome a filibuster and proceed to debate, and the Senate voted 73 to 25 to advance it. The vote comes just a week after the Republican National Committee claimed in a tweet to be the party that supports equal pay for women.
The Paycheck Fairness Act, introduced by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), would close loopholes in federal equal pay laws and extend the period of time in which women can sue an employer after learning they've been paid less than men for the same work. The issue of equal pay is a major talking point for Democrats in Congress, who are pushing the policy as part of a broader women's economic agenda.
"The Paycheck Fairness Act is a common-sense plan that supports the basic idea that all Americans should receive equal pay for equal work," Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said in a statement on Wednesday. "I will continue to fight this inequality until it is corrected, and it's time for Republicans in the Senate to stop playing politics with this important legislation that will help women, families and our economy in New Hampshire and across the country."
Republicans have consistently opposed the Paycheck Fairness Act because they say it will discourage employers from hiring women for fear of being hit with lawsuits. "At a time when the Obama economy is already hurting women so much, this legislation would double down on job loss, all while lining the pockets of trial lawyers," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said before the last vote on the bill in April. "In other words, it's just another Democratic idea that threatens to hurt the very people that it claims to help."
The timing of the vote may be significant, coming as it does in the last, two-week session ahead of the midterm elections. But there is no guarantee the bill -- which is unchanged from the last time it was blocked -- will actually come to a vote.
According to The Hill, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) asked, "Why are they wasting time on political show votes?"