Could History Repeat Itself with the Paycheck Fairness Act?

Fate of Paycheck Fairness Act faces uncertainty in Senate vote.

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The Paycheck Fairness Act is turning out to be a nailbiter for Democrats in the Senate.

[See the GOP's Senate Targets for 2012.]

The bill comes up for a key vote on Tuesday—but if past is prologue, the law's outlook isn't bright.

In 2010, Democrats failed to get the votes they needed to break a Republican filibuster. That year not a single Republican said "Yes" to the bill—including a few GOP women like Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe and Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison who had supported the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a bill that allotted women more time to sue employers for wage discrimination. [See a roundup of editorial cartoons about the Democrats.]

The Paycheck Fairness Act goes further, prohibiting employers from paying a man more than a woman based solely on gender, barring employers from punishing women for inquiring about office wages, and allowing women to sue for not only back pay, but punitive damages in cases of wage discrimination.

During a conference call with reporters the bill's sponsor, Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, said she expected every Democratic senator to sign on and hinted that negotiations were underway to recruit a few GOP women as well, but she declined to name which ones. [Read: Mitt Romney Can't Dodge Paycheck Fairness and Win Over Women.]

"I am not at liberty to go into that," Mikulski said.

Mikulski says the Paycheck Fairness Act builds on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and is a critical next step in equalizing work places across the country. She added that while some might say women already have an equal place at the table, statistics show otherwise.

Nearly 50 years ago when the first Equal Pay Act passed, a woman, on average, made 59 cents for every dollar a man made. Today, a woman makes 77 cents on the dollar. The number is lower for black and Latina women. Mikulski pointed out that in 49 years, women have only advanced 18 cents.

"We do jobs that are dangerous, that are dirty," Mikulski said. "American women are mad as hell. We are ready to fight."

The White House also poured on the pressure Monday.

[See a Collection of Political Cartoons on the Republican Party.]

President Barack Obama spoke on behalf of the bill during a conference call where he said the result of the vote would be a "make-or-break moment for the middle class."

Obama billed the act as not only a women's rights issue, but as an economic recovery one.

With women increasingly striking out as the sole bread winners in their households, Obama argued that not paying a woman their fair share affects families across the board.

"If they're making less than men do for the same work, families are going to have to get by for less money for childcare and tuition and rent, small businesses have fewer customers," he said. "Everybody suffers."