By Christine Stapleton
Guns, climate change and voting reform upstaged equal pay for women during President Obama's state of the union address Feb. 12, but Nancy Pelosi made it the top priority in her comments to a women's organization on Wednesday.
Pelosi, speaking before the American Association of University Women in Palm Springs, pulled out a card and read a portion of the president's speech in which he urged the Republican-controlled Congress to pass the Violence Against Women Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act this year.
"We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace and free from the fear of domestic violence," Pelosi said, quoting the speech. "I ask this Congress to declare that women should earn a living equal to their efforts, and finally pass the Paycheck Fairness Act this year."
Pelosi is not only the first woman to hold the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives but also a mother of four daughters. "I can't even think their work would be valued less," Pelosi said.
In 2009, during her tenure as speaker, the House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act, but the Senate refused to move the bill, which would expand the scope of the 1963 Equal Pay Act.
The bill was introduced again in 2011 but failed again in the Republican-held Senate. On Jan. 23, the bill was reintroduced again in the now-Democrat-controlled Senate.
Nationally, full-time working women are paid 77 cents for every dollar paid to men, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The disparity is greater for minority women, with African-American women earning 64 cents and Latina women earning 55 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.
In Florida, women are paid 83 cents for every dollar paid to men, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families.
Pelosi spoke for just 15 minutes before a standing-room-only crowd of about 100. She then mingled with the audience, answering questions and posing for photographs.
Pelosi said she is encouraged there are more women in Congress than ever and praised freshman U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, a former state representative and mayor of West Palm Beach, who also spoke at the event.
"I told her she would be there one day," Pelosi said to Frankel, adding that Frankel was already making a name for herself in Washington with several impressive committee assignments. As for getting more women in politics, "We need to reduce the role of money and increase the level of civility."
Asked whether she believed the Paycheck Fairness Act would pass this year, Pelosi hedged, saying she hoped by the president's "raising the profile of the issue" would not only pressure the House to pass the bill but prompt voters to ask -- 50 years after passage of the Equal Pay Act -- "why do we even have this?"