Equal pay bill passed by House but faces long odds in Senate

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks to the media, Thursday, April 15, 2021, during her weekly briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks to the media, Thursday, April 15, 2021, during her weekly briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON – House Democrats approved legislation Thursday that they say would help close the gap between what men and women are paid in the workplace, though the measure faces little chance of overcoming Republican opposition in the Senate.

The bill, which is supported by President Joe Biden's administration, passed 217-210 on a mostly party-line vote. It is the latest salvo in a long-running debate about equality of pay and the government’s role in ensuring it.

Despite their past efforts, including the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 signed into law by President Barack Obama, Democrats say there is still more that needs to be done to close a gap in pay, where white women make on average 82 cents to every dollar earned by men.

“Sadly, equal pay is not yet a reality in America,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “It’s almost sinful.”

The bill would make it easier to sue employers over pay discrimination, curb the ability of companies to retaliate and beef up enforcement of existing laws, including a new requirement that businesses submit detailed pay data to the federal government for use in policing pay discrimination laws. It would also ban employers from prohibiting employees from discussing their salaries.

Republicans say laws already on the books outlaw pay discrimination. And they counter that the bill would largely be a boon for trial lawyers looking to sue companies while miring employers in burdensome new reporting requirements that would require them to submit detailed pay information to the federal government.

Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, said that “wage discrimination has no place in any society.” But he said the Democrats' bill wasn't the right way to go about correcting those wrongs.

“The path Congress must take is to not increase opportunities for trial lawyers, but to continue its focus on strong economic policy that actually expands opportunities for all Americans,” he said.