Obama signs actions aiming at gender pay gap as Senate begins debate on wage equity

The Associated Press

President Barack Obama pauses as he listens to Women’s rights activist Lilly Ledbetter speak in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, April 8, 2014, during an event marking Equal Pay Day where he will announce new executive actions to strengthen enforcement of equal pay laws for women. The president and his Democratic allies in Congress are making a concerted election-year push to draw attention to women's wages, linking Obama executive actions with pending Senate legislation aimed at closing a compensation gender gap that favors men. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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Underscoring the politics behind the efforts, Democrats were aggressively soliciting campaign contributions, accusing Republicans of standing in the way of pay equity. Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Chris Coons of Delaware, for instance, sent out emails Tuesday drawing attention to the pay gap and directing supporters to a contribution site that was compiling donations for House and Senate Democrats.

Republicans argued that the Senate legislation would hurt women by restricting job flexibility and merit pay.

"The fact is many women seek jobs that provide more flexibility for their families over more money, which is the choice that I made as a young working mom. It is my choice, and I don't understand why Democrats won't respect my choices," Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., said.

At a news conference, five male Democratic senators said the issue of equalizing pay for men and women was more than a women's issue.

"Rebuilding the middle class begins with good-paying jobs. And those good-paying jobs won't happen if women are systematically denied fair pay simply based on their gender," said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Senate's No. 3 Democratic leader, said equalizing pay for men and women was a popular issue and warned Republicans opposing the measure, "We're going to come back to this issue several times this year."

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