WASHINGTON -- President Obama on Tuesday touted executive action he was taking to help narrow the gender pay gap, while pressing Republican lawmakers to get behind the proposed Paycheck Fairness Act.
Obama charged that Republicans are "gumming up the works" on the issue of pay equity, and called on Americans to put pressure on lawmakers to pass the legislation. It would impose new regulations on how companies pay employees in an effort to ensure women are not unfairly earning less than their male counterparts.
The Senate is expected to vote on the legislation on Wednesday, but it has little chance in the GOP-controlled House.
"This isn't just about treating women fairly," Obama said. "This is about Republicans seemingly opposing any efforts to even the playing field for working families. I don't know why you would resist the idea that women should be paid the same as men and then deny that that's not always happening out there."
He added, "If Republicans in Congress want to prove me wrong, if they want to show that they do care about women being paid the same as men, then show me. They can start tomorrow. They can join us, in this, the 21st century and vote yes on the Paycheck Fairness Act."
The sharp barbs against GOP lawmakers came during remarks by Obama before he signed an executive order and presidential memorandum to mark National Equal Pay Day --the day on the calendar that marks the extra time the average American woman would need to work to earn as much as her average male counterpart did in the previous year.
Obama signed an executive order banning federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their compensation. He also signed a presidential memorandum instructing Labor Secretary Tom Perez to establish new regulations requiring federal contractors to submit to the Department of Labor summary data on compensation paid to their employees, including data by sex and race.
The Department of Labor will use the data to encourage voluntary compliance with equal pay laws and allow more targeted enforcement by focusing efforts where there are discrepancies, according to the White House.
Before Obama spoke, the Republicans dismissed Obama's executive action and Senate Democrats' push on the Paycheck Fairness Act as a "desperate political ploy."
"First, it is already illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender. It's been against the law to pay a woman less than a man with comparable experience in the same job since the Equal Pay Act of 1963," GOP officials said in a memo distributed to reporters. "The 'fix' that Democrats propose, then, won't change that. It would, however, tightly regulate how employers can pay their employees. This law will not create "equal" pay, but it will make it nearly impossible for employers to tie compensation to work quality, productivity and experience, reduce flexibility in the workplace, and make it far easier to file frivolous lawsuits that line the pockets of trial lawyers."
Obama was introduced at the White House signing ceremony by Lilly Ledbetter, the plaintiff in a landmark discrimination case and the namesake for the first bill Obama signed into law. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Act makes clear that pay discrimination claims on the basis of sex, race, national origin, age, religion and disability "accrue" whenever an employee receives a discriminatory paycheck.
Democrats, including Obama, have repeatedly highlighted census figures that show women on average make 77 cents for every dollar that men earn.
But Republicans insist that the figure doesn't tell the whole story.
To make their point, Republicans have noted that the White House has its own gender pay gap. A recent study by the conservative American Enterprise Institute showed that female White House staff members make on average 88 cents for every dollar a male staff member earns.
"There's a disparity not because female engineers are making less than male engineers at the same company with comparable experience," the GOP memo said. "The disparity exists because a female social worker makes less than a male engineer — just as a female engineer would out-earn a male social worker. The difference isn't because of their genders; it's because of their jobs. The Paycheck Fairness Act wouldn't change that."
Tuesday's executive action on federal contractors by Obama follows his announcement in February that he was signing an order in February requiring federal contractors to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour on new contracts starting next year.
A push to raise the federal minimum wage for all workers is also facing stiff GOP opposition and appears unlikely to be passed.