Are Republicans genuinely unaware of the bad press they're getting for what's being described as the Grand Old Party's “war on women?” Or was it a tactical manoeuvre by Democrats to paint their opponents in Congress as insensitive to women's economic rights?

Whichever it was, there was little doubt that American women as a group suffered a setback in the campaign for equal pay, when a Senate bill aimed at blocking employer retaliation against women employees questioning pay structure was defeated by the entire Republican bloc in the upper chamber of Congress.

President Barack Obama appeared annoyed at the defeat of the Democrat-supported Paycheque Fairness Act, a second amendment to the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which came after his party could only garner 52 votes in favour of reopening the debate on the issue.

With 47 “nays” Democrats fell short of the 60 votes required to prevent a Republican filibuster in Congress, a necessary step before the amendment to the law could be taken up.

In a formal statement the President said, “It is incredibly disappointing that in this make-or-break moment for the middle class, Senate Republicans put partisan politics ahead of American women and their families. Despite the progress that has been made over the years, women continue to earn substantially less than men for performing the same work.”

Not unfounded

Mr. Obama's claim is not unfounded. Data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics has suggested that women earn approximately 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, which is said to reflect the gap between their annual earnings, and “Based on median hourly pay, women make 86 per cent as much as men,” according to the latest figures in this regard.

However in the wake of election-year allegations that the GoP has taken an uncompromising line against women on issues of domestic violence, abortion and contraception, Republicans appeared to sense the anger against their Congressional vote.

Dean Heller, the GoP's Senator from Nevada, was quoted as saying, “Despite the political rhetoric around here, everyone agrees [that pay discrimination based on gender is unacceptable.] The question is, will the Paycheque Fairness Act actually address workplace inequality? And the simple answer is ‘no.'”

The latest debate comes after a successful attempt by Democrats in 2009 to amend the 1963 Act. That move saw the passage of the so-called Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which loosened the time restrictions faced by women seeking to file lawsuits to redress pay discrimination at their workplace.

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