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Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2007--Motion to Proceed--Resumed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

LILLY LEDBETTER FAIR PAY ACT OF 2007--MOTION TO PROCEED--Resumed -- (Senate - April 23, 2008)

The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Under the previous order, the time until 6 p.m. is equally divided and controlled between the two leaders or their designees. Each side will have a full 30 minutes.

The Senator from Massachusetts.

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I yield myself such time as I might use.

Mr. President, our Nation was founded on the basic principle of fairness, justice, and equality. Over the years, a continuing march of progress has brought these shared ideals to ever more Americans. The ``Whites only'' signs that were a stain on America are a thing of the past. We have opened the door of opportunity to African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans. Glass ceilings that limited the opportunities of women and persons with disabilities are shattered. We have improved protections for persons of faith who suffer discrimination and intolerance because of their beliefs. Opportunities for older workers are greater now than perhaps at any previous time in our history. The march of progress represents America at its best. It has brought us ever closer to the ideal of Dr. Martin Luther King that Americans will one day be measured not by the color of their skin, their gender, their national origin, their race, their religion, or their disability, but by the content of their character.

The Senate has been an important part of the progress in guaranteeing fairness and opportunity. We passed strong bipartisan laws to protect basic civil rights, and we must not turn back the clock again. Time and again, the Senate has gone on record in favor of fairness and against discrimination, and we have done so by overwhelming majorities. We will have an opportunity in a few moments to do so again.

This chart shows the record of the Senate in ensuring pay equity for those whose skin is a different color, on the basis of age, disability, gender, religion, or national origin. Here it is: The Equal Pay Act was passed on a voice vote. An overwhelming majority in the Senate, Democrats and Republicans, said equal pay, equal work should be the law of the land. It was passed in 1963.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, title VII, equal pay for equal work, passed 73 to 27.

Age discrimination that says you will not discriminate on the basis of age passed the Senate under President Johnson by a voice vote.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 provided the same kind of protections for disabled individuals, individuals who have some disability but are otherwise qualified to do work. You cannot discriminate against them. That was passed on a voice vote under President Nixon. And this was repeated in the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1988, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

Look at the Presidents: Kennedy, Johnson, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Bush. And now in the Senate our Republican friends want to say: Oh, no, we are going to permit discrimination against women because they did not have adequate notice that the discrimination was taking place because the employer did not give them that notice when they gave them a paycheck that was unequal to their male counterparts. That was a 5-to-4 decision.

We have an opportunity to go back on the right track that Republican and Democratic Presidents and Congress led us down. Let's restore the fairness, the equity, the decency, and the humanity this Senate of the United States has gone on record with regard to equal pay for women, disabled, and the elderly in our society. Let's do that. We have a chance to do so in just 45 minutes.

I reserve the remainder of my time.


Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I will take 30 seconds.

We are attempting to restore the law prior to the Supreme Court decision. That is all we are trying to do. The law before the Supreme Court's decision is that when the paycheck reflects discrimination the time to file starts.

Here is a chart. All light green and dark green. That was the law of the
land. That was the law of the land, Mr. President. That is what our bill does. Let's not confuse the facts. We want to go back to what the law of the land was--that and only that.

Mr. President, I yield 3 minutes to the Senator from New York.


Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I yield myself 2 minutes.

If I could have the attention of the Senator from Maryland, can the Senator explain to me why there would be reluctance in this body to vote for equal pay for equal work? We voted on this now more than five times in a 40-year period, to knock down the prejudice and discrimination to women, to minorities, to the disabled, and to the elderly. Under the Supreme Court decision, that discrimination can take place in the United States of America today. This legislation can halt it. Can the Senator possibly think about why we should hesitate in taking the action to restore the law to what it was prior to the Supreme Court decision?

Ms. MIKULSKI. First, I believe in this matter the Senate would be out of touch with the American people. The American people want fairness, they want justice, and they believe women should be paid equal pay for equal or comparable work.

I also believe, though, there is opposition to the bill because people make profits off of discrimination. If you pay women less, you make more.

Also I believe when they talk about when the law was passed--the workplace has changed. There are now more women in the workplace than there were when the original laws were passed. But as the Senator from Washington State said, my gosh, this adds up to real money. You know, 20 cents an hour that we make less than the guy next to us--unless we are in the Senate; we do have equal pay here--this, over a lifetime, adds up to over a quarter of a million or a million dollars. When we look at its impact on Social Security, it is tremendous. Then if we look at its impact on a 401(k), if you have one, it adds up.

I believe discrimination is profitable, but I think it is time that justice is done.

Mr. KENNEDY. I yield myself 1 minute.

If I can ask the Senator from Washington, in this downturn in our economy we find that women have less savings, they are participating less in pension plans, they are subject to more foreclosures in housing. At a time when women are under more pressure, can the Senator possibly explain why there should be reluctance in this body to restore fairness?

Ms. CANTWELL. It is quite simple to correct this issue today. We are asking that more women be a part of the math and science and engineering workforce, be part of the information technology age. But if they cannot ask how much their male counterparts are making and find out later that they are only making 77 cents per every dollar their male counterparts make, that is not fair.

We could correct that by now by not only allowing people to come forward at the first instance of unequal pay--but every instance.

It is critical that we address this simple correction. This body has corrected other Supreme Court decisions on these same statute of limitations issues. This is the least we can do.

I see my colleague from New York has come to the floor. We ought to get this bill passed and get on to her legislation that is even more robust--to make sure that employers are treating women fairly and giving them information. This is basic. We should pass it and make sure we send this to the President's desk.

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