Day 1 of the White House equal-pay push produced a walkback on their central claim and Jay Carney’s embarrassing admission that the White House itself hasn’t addressed the problem it claims to want to solve for everyone else. Day 2 consisted of broadsides from fact checkers and the revelation that Senate Democrats climbing about the equal-pay bandwagon are actually worse on the issue than the White House. Day 3 isn’t turning out much better. Ruth Marcus calls the effort “revolting equal-pay demagoguery” in the Washington Post, equal to “waving the bloody shirt”:
Here’s a radical notion: It is simultaneously possible to believe that women are entitled to equal pay and to not support the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Not that you’d know it from the rhetoric President Obama and fellow Democrat are happily flinging at Republicans who dare to oppose the measure.
Marcus says she’d probably vote for the Paycheck Fairness Act, which died in the Senate yesterday, but that there are plenty of good reasons to be wary of it that have nothing to do with hostility toward women:
The Paycheck Fairness Act presents more complicated questions about proof and damages. In brief, the bill would make it harder for employers to rebut claims of gender-based pay discrimination. Currently, employers facing an equal pay claim can defend the differential by showing that it is “based on any other factor other than sex.” The Paycheck Fairness Act would tighten that gaping exception to require that it relate to “bona fide factors, such as education, training or experience.”
Likewise, the measure would make it easier for plaintiffs to collect not only back pay but compensatory and punitive damages, including in class action lawsuits. A third change would protect employees who discuss their compensation from being punished by their employer — a no-brainer in the aftermath of Ledbetter’s experience.
As I said, I’d vote “yes” on the bill. But I can understand the concerns of those who worry about floods of litigation and business decisions second-guessed by federal judges. There is a difference between opposing the Paycheck Fairness Act and opposing paycheck fairness. Politicians who choose to confuse the two may score a cheap political point, but it’s not a fair one.
Besides, the hypocrisy coming from Democrats who don’t operate any differently than the marketplace — and in some instances, worse than the general marketplace — makes it difficult to credit them with fairness in any sense. Why does the White House have a worse pay differential under their own formula for pushing this bill than Washington DC at large does (88:100 vs 95:100)? Why do Senators like Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Mark Begich (D-AK) pay similarly, if they want to highlight pay-equity gaps? Why not fix the problem in their own organizations before demanding that Congress sic trial lawyers on everyone else?
Landrieu and Begich may want to rethink this push anyway. Bloomberg’s Francis Barry notes that their states not only tend toward income equality anyway, but also that the independents they need to retain their seats in the midterms aren’t likely to respond well to this hypocritical demagoguery:
This November, control of the U.S. House will not be determined by voters in safely Democratic major cities, but by voters in suburban and rural districts, where inequality tends to be lower. And control of the Senate will be decided largely in states with low levels of inequality relative to the national average.
Take Alaska, where Democratic Senator Mark Begich is in a tossup race. It has the second-lowest level of income inequality in the nation (though still high by international standards). Iowa, Montana and New Hampshire — all with Senate seats up for grabs — aren’t far behind, ranking eighth, ninth and 10th. Minnesota, Oregon and Colorado, all battleground states, also have income inequality rates that put them in the lower half of states.
There are only two states that have both above-average levels of inequality and competitive Senate races this year: Georgia and Louisiana. In both, Democrats will need to do more than mobilize their base to win; they will need to persuade independents.
Polls show that independents support more action to reduce income inequality, but they respond more favorably to messages centered on fighting poverty and creating opportunity, as do voters generally. A recent poll by the Center for American Progress found that 63 percent of voters consider it a priority to “make sure everyone in the country has a real opportunity to succeed,” while only 37 percent think of “reducing the gap between the richest 1 percent and the rest of the country” as a priority.
By putting income inequality front and center, Democrats are playing to a vital part of their base: liberals and the urban poor. But they are preaching to the faithful instead of trying to convert the undecided.
Until Senators like Landrieu and Begich literally put their money where their mouths are, they’re not likely to convert anyone. Instead, they will more likely remind voters of just how Washington likes to pass laws that don’t apply to themselves but make it more difficult for everyone else to run their own businesses.