Congressional Democrats Came Up Short

President-elect Obama owes the women of Congress.

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President-elect Obama's victory has overshadowed the fact congressional Democrats did not pick up anywhere near the number of seats some pundits and pollsters were predicting and hoping they might win.

Several Senate races remain too close to call. Those races include four embattled Republican incumbents: Sen. Norm Coleman (battling Al Franken) in Minnesota, Sen. Saxby Chambliss in Georgia, Sen. Gordon Smith in Oregon, and Sen. Ted Stevens in Alaska.

Democrats have gained a greater majority in the House and also added five sure seats in the Senate. However, they are unlikely to hit the magic number of 60 in the Senate to give them a so-called super majority in the executive and legislative branches.

The certain seats gained by Democrats in the Senate number five. In the Congress, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will add to her majority despite 11 races still to be called. Congressional Quarterly forecasts a minimum gain of 21 seats. The likely makeup of the House would be 256 Democrats to 174 Republicans, with five seats still a toss up.

We won't know final numbers for a while, but 21 House seats and five Senate seats do not approach the 30 House and 10 Senate seats some had hoped to move into Democratic territory. In the Senate, at least, the lack of a filibusterproof 60 seat majority means Republicans can still block controversial measures, even if they are passed by the House. One bill pending Senate approval is described by the National Organization for Women as:

...one of the most important pieces of pay equity legislation to be considered in decades, the Paycheck Fairness Act... It...would amend the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to strengthen penalties for equal pay violations, enhance data collection from employers so that patterns of sex discrimination in pay can be identified, and more directly place the responsibility on employers defending wage differences to show that the differences are due to factors other than sex. A particularly important provision establishes the right of wage discrimination plaintiffs under the Equal Pay Act to receive compensatory and punitive damages, a remedy that is available in most other anti-discrimination statutes.

The bill's House author is Connecticut Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro and her Senate coauthor is none other than Sen. Hillary Clinton. President-elect Obama campaigned on a promise to support pay equity legislation (that punishes employers who pay men and women in the same jobs at differing rates of pay). And he certainly owes it to his female supporters to keep that promise. (The new House would have to pass the bill again in 2009, but given the larger Democratic majority, that should not be a problem.)

A new analysis of exit poll data released today by Rutgers University's Center for American Women & Politics reveals:

Women strongly preferred Obama to Senator John McCain (56 percent for Obama, 43 percent for McCain), unlike men, who split their votes about evenly for the two presidential candidates (49 percent for Obama, 48 percent for McCain).

This will be one of Obama's trickiest tracks to maneuver. Conservatives strongly oppose federally imposed pay standards and will certainly use this as a wedge issue against Democrats if they succeed in passing this bill.

  • Click here to read more by Bonnie Erbe.
  • Click here to read more about Barack Obama.
  • Click here to read more about Campaign 2008.