An early test for Demo­cratic Congress

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - OP-ED - Mar­sha Mar­sha Mercer writes from Washington. You may con­tact her at mar­[email protected]­ © 2019, Mar­sha Mercer All rights re­served.

The most mem­o­rable vis­ual from the State of the Union was the most joy­ous. We’re used to Repub­li­can mem­bers of Congress pop­ping up from their chairs and du­ti­fully ap­plaud­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump — and to Democrats, with rare ex­cep­tions, sit­ting glumly.

On Tues­day night, though, dozens of Demo­cratic women — wear­ing “suf­fragette white” to show sol­i­dar­ity and to honor the legacy of the suf­fragette move­ment — be­came a wave of cel­e­bra­tion.

The women were largely qui­es­cent un­til Trump be­gan tout­ing the econ­omy.

“No one has ben­e­fited more from our thriv­ing econ­omy than women, who have filled 58 per­cent of the new jobs cre­ated in the last year,” he said.

The women — many of them new­com­ers to Congress — perked up. Smil­ing, they looked around, stood, and ap­plauded, point­ing to them­selves and each other. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi beamed.

“Don’t sit yet. You’re go­ing to like this,” Trump said. “And ex­actly one cen­tury af­ter the Congress passed the con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment giv­ing women the right to vote, we also have more women serv­ing in the Congress than ever be­fore,” he said.

At that, the women — many of whom ran for Congress and won be­cause of their out­spo­ken op­po­si­tion to Trump’s poli­cies — re­joiced in their tri­umph with en­er­getic fist-pumps, high fives, and hugs. Their ju­bi­la­tion was in­fec­tious.

Now they need to har­ness their en­thu­si­asm to suc­ceed in the hy­per-par­ti­san cap­i­tal. The Demo­cratic House must de­liver on prom­ises to make Washington work for ev­ery­body.

It’s ex­cit­ing to think the new mem­bers ac­tu­ally will build coali­tions and pass bills that bet­ter the lives of women and fam­i­lies. Even Trump says he fa­vors paid fam­ily and med­i­cal leave, although there’s noth­ing to show for it.

One of the first tests for Congress is en­sur­ing women get equal pay for their work. Fi­nally.

Equal pay has been the law of the land since the 1960s, but the gen­der pay gap — the dif­fer­ence in me­dian earn­ings of a man and a woman each work­ing full-time — per­sists.

A woman in 2017 earned about 20 per­cent less than a man, ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent Cen­sus Bureau fig­ures. The wage gap is worse for black women and His­panic women.

This isn’t a fluke or women work­ing in “women’s” jobs that pay less. Men’s me­dian weekly pay ex­ceeds women’s in al­most ev­ery oc­cu­pa­tion — from chief ex­ec­u­tives to jan­i­tors and build­ing clean­ers, the Bureau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics re­ports.

The Pay­check Fair­ness Act was first in­tro­duced more than a decade ago. It would close loop­holes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and amend the Fair La­bor Stan­dards Act of 1938 and make em­ploy­ers more ac­count­able for their pay prac­tices.

It would end pay se­crecy and re­tal­i­a­tion — work­place rules that keep work­ers from ask­ing about oth­ers’ wages and dis­clos­ing their own; al­low work­ers to sue for dam­ages from pay dis­crim­i­na­tion; strengthen penal­ties for equal pay vi­o­la­tions; and up­date the fed­eral role in ed­u­ca­tion, re­search, and data-col­lec­tion to com­bat gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion.

The House first passed Pay­check Fair­ness in Jan­uary 2009, but the bill died in the Sen­ate. It has been rein­tro­duced re­peat­edly and has al­ways failed.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Demo­crat of Con­necti­cut, and Sen. Patty Mur­ray, Demo­crat of Washington, rein­tro­duced the mea­sure Jan. 30.

In the House, ev­ery Demo­crat and one Repub­li­can are co-spon­sors. In the Sen­ate, there are 45 co-spon­sors — all Democrats and Bernie San­ders, in­de­pen­dent. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Vir­ginia are co-spon­sors.

Rep. Bobby Scott, Demo­crat of Vir­ginia, is now chair­man of the Ed­u­ca­tion and La­bor Com­mit­tee, and plans to fast-track the leg­is­la­tion with a hear­ing this month and a House vote soon af­ter. The goal is to have a bill on Trump’s desk by early April.

But pas­sage is hardly as­sured. Even though more women serve in Congress than ever, they still make up only about a quar­ter of the to­tal mem­ber­ship.

What’s needed is a thaw in the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Sen­ate. Repub­li­cans op­pose the bill as un­nec­es­sary, say­ing it bur­dens em­ploy­ers and could even harm women, if em­ploy­ers are re­luc­tant to hire them.

But surely in 2019 equal pay for women do­ing equal work is an is­sue we all can agree on.

It’s time for Congress — new mem­bers and veter­ans — to turn to the hard work of gov­ern­ing and get the job done.


Mem­bers of Congress cheer Tues­day night af­ter Trump ac­knowl­edges more women in Congress.


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