April 19, 2014 -- If there’s one thing Washington is exceptionally good at, it’s politicizing the personal. In the past few weeks, the ongoing debate over “equal pay for equal work” has typified this type of unfair politicization – this time with women – and instead of working together on solutions to empower American women, it has only perpetuated false accusations. The President and his Democratic colleagues continue to perpetuate the myth that Republicans do not support equal pay for equal work. This could not be further from the truth.
As a woman myself – one who worked at the McDonald’s drive-thru to pay for school and was the first in my family to graduate from college – and as the mom of two young daughters, I have never once wavered in my support of equal pay for equal work. Many years from now, when my daughters, Grace and Brynn, decide to pursue their careers – whether they choose to be teachers or doctors or artists or computer engineers – they should do so without worrying they’ll make less than their male counterparts and without fear of gender discrimination.
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Protections against gender discrimination exist to give my daughters and the millions of other working women in America that very peace of mind. Republicans were instrumental in ensuring passage of the two groundbreaking, bipartisan laws codifying equal pay for equal work: The Equal Pay Act (1963) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (1964). If a woman believes she has been discriminated against in the workplace – which is both unjust and repulsive – she has every legal recourse in place to remain protected.
Nobody on Capitol Hill – neither Republicans nor Democrats – thinks it is acceptable for a woman to be discriminated against in the workplace, which is why these critical laws must be enforced.
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As the 200th woman to ever serve in the House of Representatives, I am especially proud of the incredibly positive story women in America have to tell. More than 72 million women are in the labor force today, compared to just 18 million in 1950 – representing a significant and unprecedented change in our workforce. Nearly 50% of women today make the family’s financial decisions; 85% make the health care decisions; and more than half of the women in our workforce are the primary income earners in their families. This is a story that makes our parents proud. It’s a story that should be celebrated more often in Washington and throughout America. And it’s a story I will be proud to tell my own daughters one day.
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But we shouldn’t just stop the debate at equal pay for women, but on better pay and better lives for women. Let’s stop politicizing women and start helping them get ahead. Women play an invaluable role in America’s economy, and they know firsthand the effects of mandates from Washington that make it harder and harder to pay the bills each month. They make the health care decisions for their parents and their children. They start two out of every three new businesses. Women get the gas and the groceries; they write the family budgets; and they juggle work and motherhood and everything in between.
So for women to be most successful we must broaden our focus. This debate is about so much more than equal pay. It’s about empowering women with better paychecks, better opportunities, and better lives. House Republicans have advanced dozens of jobs-related bills that will help all Americans bring home more of their paychecks. We’ve promoted solutions that will give women more freedom when it comes to the health care decisions for themselves and their families – options that will lower costs and increase the quality of health care. We’ve passed legislation to improve skills and job training, so more women can get back into the workforce. And Republicans have long supported bills that would provide workplace flexibility so working parents can choose paid time off instead of overtime if that’s what they’d prefer.
What would most help women across America succeed – more than political gamesmanship ever could – would be for both parties to work together to act on these pro-women, pro-jobs and pro-growth solutions. Politicizing women won’t help them get ahead. But coming together to enact real solutions will.
Read an op-ed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.): Why Equal Pay Is Worth Fighting For
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) serves as Chairwoman of the House Republican Conference.