Policy: Budgets & Deficits

House Republicans this week tackle budget plan while Senate Dems push paycheck fairness

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Labor,PennAve,Budgets and Deficits,Gender Issues

The House this week will vote on a ten-year Republican budget plan while the Senate debates a bill that Democrats believe will lead to more equal wages for male and female workers.

Neither bill has a shot of ever clearing Congress, but both parties are looking to appeal to their base by debating measures that appeal to those voters.

House Republicans will need nearly all of their conference to pass the budget plan, which reduces federal spending by $5.1 trillion and trims the cost of Medicaid, Medicare and food stamps. Democrats oppose the plan because of the cuts, which means the GOP majority can lose the support of no more than 15 Republicans or the measure will fail to garner the 218 votes needed for passage.

Most Republicans back the plan, authored by House Budget Committee Chairman and former GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, R-Wis. But some fiscally conservative lawmakers oppose the plan's adherence to the 2013 bipartisan budget agreement, which restores about half of the money cut under the Budget Control Act.

House Democrats, meanwhile, plan to introduce their own budget on Monday. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said on CNN Sunday that the forthcoming proposal would not balance the budget, which Ryan's plan accomplishes over a decade. Instead, she said, it would improve economic growth and, with major cuts, reduce the deficit to about 2 percent of the Gross Domestic Product.

The House Democratic budget plan would have no chance of passing, not only because House Republicans oppose it, but because Senate Democrats are not planning on taking up a major spending blueprint this year.

Instead, Senate Democrats are focused on debating measures that are unlikely to garner enough support to pass their own chamber but which they believe will put Republicans who oppose their legislation in an unfavorable political position.

They’ll start this week with a debate on the Paycheck Fairness Act.

It’s legislation that would impose new regulations on how companies pay employees in an effort to ensure women are not unfairly earning less than their male counterparts.

For example, it would require companies to prove that pay differences among men and women are due to factors independent of gender. It would also raise penalties for those found to be in violation of the act, widen the opportunity for gender based class-action lawsuits and it would mandate that the Labor Department begin collecting data on gender and wages.

Democrats base their support on data that indicates women earn 77 cents for every dollar in wages awarded to men. Their effort will coincide with Tuesday's “Equal Pay Day.” President Obama will sign two orders aimed at making pay equal among federal contractors by prohibiting retaliation against workers who disclose their pay and by requiring federal contractors to report wage and gender data to the Labor Department.

Any further regulation faces a steep uphill climb in Congress.

Most Republicans strenuously oppose the paycheck fairness legislation, pointing out that the law already prohibits gender discrimination in the workplace. Most GOP lawmakers say the legislation, which the Senate rejected once before in 2012, would make it impossible for employers to determine pay based on merit. They argue that the wage discrepancy data does not take into account different job categories and that some women are paid less because they are employed in lower-wage professions.

“I will vote the same I did a year ago, which is no,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., told the Washington Examiner when asked her position on the Paycheck Fairness Act. “And I think it's self-evident I am for women being paid the same for the same job as men.”

Democrats said that the contrast in wages requires Congressional action.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., recently spoke of one of her female constituents who is paid less than the men in her company.

“A senior executive even bragged to her that he hires women because he can pay them less,” Stabenow said. “Yet the last time she looked, she didn't pay less for groceries, she didn't pay less for gas, she didn't pay less for her rent. We believe that every woman should have a fair shot at being successful, and that's what the Paycheck Fairness Act is all about.”

Senate Democrats control 55 seats and will need 60 to stop a GOP filibuster. When the Senate last took up the bill, in June 2012, every Republican voted against the measure, effectively killing it.

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