Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers penned an opinion piece this week for Glamour magazine outlining ways lawmakers could push for gender equality in pay.
But the fourth-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives has voted against legislation that addresses the issues listed in her op-ed, saying she instead prefers Republican-backed proposals to solve the pay gap and that Democratic legislation calls for reforms that are not constructive.
“It’s time for Congress to review protections provided in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title XII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” McMorris Rodgers wrote in the Glamour piece published online Tuesday. “If these half-century-old laws aren’t working or properly enforced, then it’s time for us to strengthen them.”
The op-ed, titled “3 Ways We Can Actually Close the Wage Gap,” calls for changes to the catch-all defense an employer can use to combat complaints of wage discrimination; prohibiting employers from retaliating against people who discuss their pay with coworkers; and forcing knowingly discriminatory businesses to fund a nationwide study on salary gaps.
At least two of those proposals are present, in some form, in the Paycheck Fairness Act, which has been proposed by a Democratic sponsor in every session of Congress since 1997. As a member of the House of Representatives, McMorris Rodgers twice voted against that legislation, in July 2008 and January 2009, joining a majority of Republicans opposing the bill.
In both instances, the legislation passed the House of Representatives but failed in the Senate. The bill has not made it back to the House floor since 2009.
In a statement written after the op-ed was published, McMorris Rodgers said she preferred legislation offered by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican from New Hampshire, to the Democratic proposals voted on in the House.
“Unfortunately, the Democrats’ legislative proposals don’t effectively reduce the gap,” McMorris Rodgers said in her statement. “I don’t support those ideas because I believe we need to be for a solution, not just pointing to a problem.”
Ayotte’s bill changes the Fair Labor Standards Act, a 1938 law, while the Paycheck Fairness Act revises the Civil Rights Act, mentioned in McMorris Rodgers’ editorial. Ayotte’s bill also places statutory limits on civil damages an employee can seek against their employer based on the size of a company, a provision that isn’t present in companion Democratic legislation.
Through a spokesman, McMorris Rodgers said later Wednesday there were portions of the Paycheck Fairness Act that were not constructive and could not pass Congress. The spokesman, Ian Field, said the congresswoman believed the Democratic bill would favor trial lawyers and not women being paid less than their male counterparts.
McMorris Rodgers was joined by many female politicians, including Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, calling for an end to discriminatory policies. Tuesday had been identified as “Equal Pay Day,” illustrating how deep into 2016 women have to work to make up for the 2015 earnings of their male counterparts. A recent study showed women in Washington state make 78 percent the salary of men performing equivalent work.
Political opponents have criticized McMorris Rodgers in the past for her votes on equal pay issues, including a “nay” vote on the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which became law in 2009. That law renews the statute of limitations on a discriminatory pay complaint to 180 days after each paycheck that is allegedly unfair. The Supreme Court had ruled in 2007 that a complaint must be brought within 180 days of the first paycheck believed to be in violation of the Civil Rights Act.
The closest McMorris Rodgers has come to explaining her votes against Lilly Ledbetter and other proposals to address equal pay came in April 2012, when she served on a roundtable “Meet the Press” panel saying that critics were “picking and choosing” which bills and votes to hold against Republicans on the issue.
“We are focusing on the economy, on getting Americans back to work,” McMorris Rodgers said in that discussion, available to view on the congresswoman’s YouTube page.
In her statement Wednesday, McMorris Rodgers said her position on the gender pay gap has not changed during her time in Congress.
“I’ve always believed in equal pay for equal work,” she said.
McMorris Rodgers’ political opponents again criticized her opinion piece this week, calling it hypocritical and not a solution.
“Who could disagree with it? It’s all common sense, it’s all rational. It’s like mom and apple pie, but it’s inconsistent with her voting record,” said Dave Wilson, who’s running as an independent. “It would be like Bernie Sanders writing an article on why we need to reduce the minimum wage.”
Wilson said he hadn’t closely examined the equal pay legislation McMorris Rodgers had voted against, and wouldn’t say whether he supported those bills. But he said “discrimination of all types is wrong.”
Tom Horne, who’s running as a Republican, said the opinion piece offered no real solutions to problems that he wasn’t sure existed.
“Her solution is more government bureaucrats, with an agenda that may or may not have basis in reality, supervising our employers, complete with the attendant lawsuits that may not have merit,” Horne wrote in an email.
McMorris Rodgers’ Democratic opponent, Joe Pakootas, did not return a phone call Wedneday requesting comment on the equal pay issue. He said Thursday he supported the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Lily Ledbetter Act, and questioned whether McMorris Rodgers’ editorial was politically motivated.
“One day they’re voting against it, and then the next day they need to generate support from those people,” Pakootas said.