Equal pay for women: It is an idea that is still ahead of its time, in the United States Senate, in the year of our Lord 2014.
It is an idea that one might have thought would die in the House, the swollen vas deferens of our body politic's general impotence. But no, this was not the work of America's usual itchy inflamed patch. This was killed by the staid, nominally sane denizens of our Senate, who sunk the Paycheck Fairness Act with a procedural vote today.
Not the Senate, but the Senate's Republican caucus, to be precise. The minority party succeeded today in mustering 44 besuited and pantsuited hacks to block an up-or-down vote on whether women should enjoy the same fruits of labor that men enjoy, and whether the law should back women up when they're offered a raw deal by their beneficent job-creating corporate overseers.
44, of course, is not a majority of senators. But in order to see whether a bill can get 51 votes in the Senate, one still has to get the support of 60 senators, because American democracy is perfect, and we are a shining city on a hill, and math is for geeks.
The bill, according to Politico, sought:
to give women workers new tools to combat pay discrimination by allowing workers to compare salaries without threat of employer retaliation, requiring companies to explain pay disparities and permitting those discriminated against to seek monetary damages.
Every Republican voted against it. Angus King, the rockstar independent from Maine, also voted against the bill, saying that it "fails to address the real causes that are driving the wage gap." Because in King's mind, the natural principles of Smithian market capitalism, as certain to him as Newton's laws of gravitation, are more immediate causes of the pay gap. Less immediate to King are businesses' ability to pay women less than men without fear of punishment, and businesses' ability to conceal salary information from workers. Because macroeconomics says, dammit.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) also voted against the bill, his own, when it became clear there weren't enough votes to bring it to a vote. Because this way, he can introduce it later in the Senate's session for a vote on whether to vote on the bill.
You go to modernity with the Senate you have. This is the Senate we have.
"We see this for what it is and it's just another attempt by Democrats to distract from what is a very bad record when it comes to helping women in the economy," Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) told Politico. "That's what this is all about, them trying to get a headline."
Thune, like King, thinks what will help women get better-paying jobs is more deregulation, because then more businesses will make money, and then they will hire more people, and some of those people will be women, and probably they'll make the same as men if we leave it to the market, you know, the really strong market we'll have when we get out of its way, like we had 2002-3 and 2007-9. What could go wrong?
Is it an election-year stunt by Democrats? Yes: Trying to give voters something they see as fair and right and just is probably a pretty good way to campaign for re-election. Identifying the sitting politicians who oppose the fair and the right and the just is politically astute.
The opponents of equal-pay laws don't have any real arguments to make in favor of their alternate proposals, else they would have made them. Instead, they look more and more like the opponents of the 40-hour workweek, the shortened workday, child labor laws, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the minimum wage, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and every other meaty chunk of legislation this country's Democrats and Republicans have historically managed to pass in order to incrementally improve everyone's labor conditions over time.
This is now the small-government wing of America's government. They act like bosses. They think like bosses. They empower bosses to be bossier with you.
The only saving grace is that, unlike our actual bosses, we can fire them.
[Photo credit: AP]