At Tuesday’s Hofstra University presidential debate, President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney duked it out over pay equity for women, just as they have fought over female votes in the national polls.
While Obama made the empathetic case for his single mother and his belief in equal pay — pointing out that the first bill he signed as president was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act — he did not address reports this year that demonstrated that his own White House pays women less than men.
“The first bill I signed was something called the Lilly Ledbetter bill. And it’s named after this amazing woman who had been doing the same job as a man for years, found out that she was getting paid less, and the Supreme Court said that she couldn’t bring suit because she should have found about it earlier, whereas she had no way of finding out about it,” Obama said. “So we fixed that. And that’s an example of the kind of advocacy that we need, because women are increasingly the breadwinners in the family. This is not just a women’s issue — this is a family issue, this is a middle-class issue, and that’s why we’ve got to fight for it.
According to a report published by the Free Beacon in April, the 2011 annual report on White House staff revealed that the median annual salary for female White House employees was 18 percent less than male employees — $60,000 compared to $71,000.
And in 2008, Scripps Howard syndicated columnist Deroy Murdock noted that as in Obama’s U.S. Senate office, women were paid less than men: While the average male staffer brought home $54,397, female staffers averaged $45,152.
Romney detailed his professional history, recruiting women into positions of power during his tenure as governor of Massachusetts. He further pointed out the economic suffering women have endured under Obama, including the loss of 580,000 jobs among women and 3.5 million women in poverty.
“What we can do to help young women and women of all ages is to have a strong economy — so strong that employers that are looking to find good employees and bringing them into their workforce and adapting to a flexible work schedule that gives women opportunities that they would otherwise not be able to afford,” Romney said.
Obama pressed Romney on the Lilly Ledbetter Act, noting that earlier in the year, when asked about the legislation, the former Massachusetts governor dodged the issue.
“I just want to point out that when Gov. Romney’s campaign was asked about the Lilly Ledbetter bill, whether he supported it, he said, ‘I’ll get back to you.’ And that’s not the kind of advocacy that women need in any economy,” Obama said, going on to attack Romney for his opposition to government funding of Planned Parenthood and the contraception mandate in Obamacare, painting Romney’s opposition as a potential economic hindrance to women.
“In my health care bill, I said insurance companies need to provide contraceptive coverage to everybody who is insured. Because this is not just a — a health issue, it’s an economic issue for women. It makes a difference. This is money out of that family’s pocket. Gov. Romney not only opposed it, he suggested that in fact employers should be able to make the decision as to whether or not a woman gets contraception through her insurance coverage,” Obama said. “That’s not the kind of advocacy that women need. When Gov. Romney says that we should eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, there are millions of women all across the country, who rely on Planned Parenthood for, not just contraceptive care — they rely on it for mammograms, for cervical cancer screenings.”
Following the debate, pro-life groups blasted out myriad statements disputing Obama’s assertion that Planned Parenthood provides mammograms.
Romney was not allotted time to respond fully to the president’s follow up, but in answering the next question the Republican nominee revisited his stance on contraception.
“I’d just note that I don’t believe that bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not. And I don’t believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care of not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives,” Romney said. “And the president’s statement of my policy is completely and totally wrong.”