- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 15, 2012

Mitt Romney’s campaign stumbled last week when it couldn’t immediately say whether he supports a 2009 law that grants women more chances to sue over pay discrimination — and his staff still cannot say whether he would sign the follow-up legislation, the Paycheck Fairness Act, which is currently pending in Congress.

President Obama supports the bill, and made a specific call for action in January, but Mr. Romney’s campaign this week couldn’t say where he stands. After repeated messages Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, the campaign emailed a brief general response: “Gov. Romney supports pay equity.”

Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama have engaged in a fight for female voters in recent weeks, with each charging that the other has been bad for women’s prospects on jobs, the economy and pay.

Last Wednesday the Romney campaign had to do damage control after a reporter asked on a press conference call what Mr. Romney’s stance was on the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Act. After pausing, the staffers told reporters they would have to “get back” with an answer — which, within an hour, they did, saying Mr. Romney supports the 3-year-old law.

The next day, the Obama campaign scrambled to distance itself from a Democratic operative who said Ann Romney, wife of the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee, who stayed home to raise five sons, had “never worked a day in her life.”

But those flaps aside, the campaigns are likely to have to address more substantive issues about women, jobs and pay.

Mr. Obama, who made the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act the first bill he signed into law in 2009, used its three-year anniversary in January to push for the Paycheck Fairness Act.

“Too often women can’t access the information they need to fight pay discrimination,” Mr. Obama said in a YouTube video released by his campaign.

Where the Ledbetter Act gave women more time to discover evidence of pay discrimination, the Paycheck Fairness Act goes further, strengthening existing equal pay laws on several fronts.

Fatima Goss Graves, vice president for education and employment at the National Women’s Law Center, said the bill would prevent companies from retaliating against workers who discuss their own salary figures — which means there are more chances to discover pay disparities. And it allows remedies other than just back-pay for those discriminated against.

“What Ledbetter did was highlight the important need for improved pay discrimination laws,” Ms. Graves said. “What we really need is to think holistically in how can you be more proactive in preventing wage discrimination. That is what the Paycheck Fairness Act does.”

But it’s proved to be controversial in Congress, where Senate Republicans blocked it during the lame-duck session in 2010.

“If Mitt Romney really wants to answer the question of whether he supports pay equity, he should endorse the Paycheck Fairness Act,” said Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat and chief sponsor of the legislation in the House.

Doing so, however, could leave Mr. Romney at odds with most Republicans in Congress.

Only eight members of the GOP voted for Lilly Ledbetter — three in the House and five in the Senate. On the Paycheck Fairness Act, 10 Republicans in the House backed it, but no Senate Republicans did.

“The primary beneficiary of this legislation will be trial lawyers,” Sen. Michael B. Enzi, Wyoming Republican, said at the time. “The litigation bonanza this bill would create would extend even to the smallest of small businesses, only further hampering our economic recovery.”

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