House passes gender pay gap bill

House Democrats voted Wednesday to strengthen wage discrimination protections in a move meant to mark Women’s History Month and bolster the party’s economic message ahead of the 2020 elections.

“We know people are stuck in jobs that don’t pay them enough to live on nowadays and that’s our biggest economic challenge,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, who sponsored the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Democrats say the bill, which aims to protect employees from retaliation for discussing pay, would help address the wage gap between men and women. DeLauro has introduced a version of the measure in every Congress since 1997. She said this version aims to close gaps in the 1963 Equal Pay Act and strengthen the decade-old Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act by limiting defenses employers can make for paying some workers less, barring employers from basing pay on wage history and prohibiting paying less because of office location.

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Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut and ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, makes an opening statement during a hearing with Tom Price, U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, March 29, 2017. President Donald Trumps administration has proposed cutting $1.23 billion this fiscal year from research funded by the National Institutes of Health, according to a White House document sent to congressional appropriators. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Republicans, however, say the measure wouldn’t actually impose new substantial protections and would instead be a boon for trial lawyers while adding burdens to hiring. “The Paycheck Fairness Act strictly limits communication between employers and employees on key hiring decisions,” Representative Bradley Byrne said. “I don’t see how limiting the discussion between employers and employees, particularly on hiring decisions, is going to help anybody.”

The vote on H.R. 7 split largely along party lines. 235 Democrats backed the bill along with seven Republicans, while 187 Republicans voted against it. Stiff Republican opposition signals the measure is unlikely to become law under a divided government, and instead could resonate on into the campaign.

Women were a key reason why Democrats won the House in 2018, voting for Democrats by a 19 point margin, according to national exit polls, while men backed the GOP by a four point margin. Women tend to vote a little more frequently than men, and were 52 percent of the 2018 electorate.

Democrats, aware of that gap, are eager to press the issue. Senator Patty Murray of Washington, who’s sponsoring the bill in her chamber, said she’s "going to keep pushing my colleagues in the Senate to keep pushing to close this gap and bring this bill up for a vote, or if they don’t to explain why they won’t.”