Senate Republicans blocked an equal pay bill from moving forward in the Senate Wednesday, one day after President Obama took executive action to try to narrow the gender pay gap.
The Senate failed to reach the 60 votes needed to move forward to debate on the Paycheck Fairness Act. The Senate voted 53-44 on the motion to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to the measure. Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine who typically votes with Democrats, joined Republicans in blocking the measure.
Republicans objected to moving forward with the bill because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would not allow the Senate to consider Republican amendments to the measure.
"For weeks now, they've blocked the efforts Republicans have made to improve the picture. Senate Democrats want to control this debate from start to finish and basically do nothing to help with our efforts to expand opportunity and jobs for women and for men," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor. "They continue to block all the innovative ideas that Republicans have been offering to turn the tide."
The legislation would have required all employers to prove differences in pay are not based on gender and would allow employees to discuss their wages. The measure also allowed employees to file lawsuits for punitive damage in cases of alleged sex discrimination.
Prior to the vote, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the feisty 77-year-old dean of the Senate women, delivered an impassioned speech on the Senate floor on the need to eliminate the gender pay gap.
"I'll tell you what I'm tired of hearing - that somehow or another we're too emotional when we talk. You know, when we raise an issue, we're too emotional. Well, I am emotional," Mikulski said. "If we don't pass this bill, I'm so emotional I'm going to press on. It brings tears to my eyes to know how women every, single day are working so hard and are getting paid less. It makes me emotional to hear that."
"When I hear all of these phony reasons - some are mean, some are meaningless - I do get emotional," Mikulski said, beating her hands on her chest. "I get angry. I get outraged. I get volcanic.
"Today is the day that's a reckoning on 'Do you want equal pay for equal work?' and I want men and women all across America to be emotional about it," she said. "If think we're emotional, wait till you see what happens if this bill fails."
After the vote, Mikulski issued a rallying cry for fighting for equal pay for women.
"Let's suit up. Let's square our shoulders. For the women, put your lipstick on and let's fight on," she said. "We will be back another day for another vote."
On Tuesday, President Obama signed an executive order requiring federal contractors to allow workers to discuss their pay. The president also signed a presidential memorandum that requires federal contractors to report pay data based on sex and race to the Labor Department.
Ahead of today's procedural vote, the president urged Republicans to vote in favor of the Paycheck Fairness Act.
"If Republicans in Congress want to prove me wrong, if they want to show that they in fact 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 president said.