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By Richard Rubin August 27, 2008

No, he's just not okay with one bill

Democrats continue trying to drive a wedge between the Republican presidential candidate and female voters, and the equal-pay issue continues to be a theme.

The party's most prominent woman, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, took her turn during her much-anticipated convention speech. Sen. John McCain, she said, "still thinks it's okay when women don't earn equal pay for equal work."

That's flatly contradicted by statements McCain has made. On April 23 he said he is "all in favor of pay equity for women," then said in July, "I'm committed to making sure that there's equal pay for equal work."

So how can Clinton argue the opposite?

The answer lies in a Senate vote earlier this year on an issue involving Lilly Ledbetter, a former manager at a Goodyear Tire and Rubber plant in Alabama. Ledbetter discovered that she was being paid less than her male counterparts and sued for discrimination.

The case reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007, and Ledbetter lost. The majority said a 180-day statute of limitations in the law had started from the first instance of discrimination, meaning that her suit about more than a decade of discrimination was untimely.

Ledbetter became a folk heroine among Democrats (and spoke at the Democratic National Convention). Democrats in Congress responded quickly to the Supreme Court decision, putting together a bill that would allow employers to be sued for every paycheck stemming from a discriminatory pay system, not the discriminatory decision itself.

The bill passed the House, and Senate Democrats tried to schedule a vote to pass it there, too. Under Senate rules, 60 votes were needed to consider the bill, and just 56 voted yes on April 23. Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Clinton all voted yes.

McCain missed the vote, which was not unusual during his presidential campaign. He later said he would have voted no.

McCain was pressed further on the issue – by a 14-year-old girl who quizzed him at a town hall meeting a few weeks later. Here's what McCain said then: "I don't believe that this would do anything to help the rights of women except maybe help trial lawyers and others in that profession."

It's a stretch for Clinton to argue that McCain thinks it's acceptable for women not to get equal pay for equal work, when McCain has said the exact opposite. He doesn't support a specific piece of legislation that could make wage-discrimination suits more painful to employers. It's an important bill, it's the most significant equal-pay issue under consideration right now and there's probably a fair way to phrase this attack and make it stick.

But opposing that bill is not the same as thinking it's okay if women don't get equal pay for equal work, so we rate the claim False.

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No, he's just not okay with one bill

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