Kentucky Democratic candidates Alison Lundergan Grimes and Elisabeth Jensen joined national Democrats Tuesday in calling for passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, blasting their male opponents as outdated and committed to discriminatory pay practices.
Grimes is running to defeat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Jensen hopes to unseat U.S. Rep. Andy Barr in Central Kentucky's 6th Congressional District.
"Today, thousands will make their voices heard and call for action," Grimes wrote in an email message to supporters. "One voice you will not hear in this chorus is Mitch McConnell's. For nearly 30 years, people in Kentucky and across the country have called on McConnell to speak up on issues important to women and working families — and for nearly 30 years, McConnell has failed to answer that call."
Jensen said the day is "a reminder to Kentucky women of Andy Barr's wrong priorities that put special interests ahead of middle-class families and the women who support them."
Both statements came Tuesday morning before President Barack Obama was scheduled to speak on the matter. Obama's efforts to push the issue have been complicated by a report released in January by the conservative American Enterprise Institute showing that women working in the White House make 88 cents for every dollar a man makes.
White House officials have repeatedly said the study fails to take into account differences in positions and hours worked.
Republicans said Tuesday that those same omissions contribute to the oft-repeated claims of Democrats that, nationally, women make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. Jensen used the 77-cent figure in her news release. Grimes used a Kentucky-specific 76-cent number.
The three campaign committees of the Republican Party issued a joint memo Tuesday that sought to illustrate that "when you compare unequal work, of course you'll come up with a statistic that shows unequal pay."
"The truth is the 'Paycheck Fairness Act' is a desperate political ploy," the memo said. "And Democrats are cynically betting that Americans aren't smart enough to know better. They're forgetting the millions of women who belong to the Republican Party who will speak out. They're missing the fathers, husbands and sons who believe that women deserve real solutions."
The proposed law, put forth by Obama and Senate Democrats, would update the Equal Pay Act of 1963 by adding regulations that, among other things, require employers to demonstrate that differences in wages are based on factors other than gender.
In a policy statement released Tuesday morning, the White House's Office of Management and Budget said Obama "strongly supports" the bill.
"The gender wage gap not only hurts working families, it also undermines the administration's commitment to expand opportunity for all Americans," the statement said.
Barr said in a statement that "there is no question women should receive equal pay for equal work."
Barr and other Republicans said they have repeatedly offered bills that would create jobs and grow the economy for Americans of all genders.
"It is time for Congress and the White House to lead by example and focus on common ground and good ideas, whether they are supported by Republicans or Democrats," Barr said. "The focus should not be on the political battles in Washington, but on putting people back to work."
Grimes has made targeting women voters central to her campaign, consistently assailing McConnell as a misogynist and blasting his voting record as hostile toward women.
"Mitch McConnell's record of championing the policies of yesterday is unacceptable," Grimes said in her email message to supporters. "It's time for a change."
Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.