BY RUSSELL BERMAN – Staff Reporter of the Sun

WASHINGTON–As Senator Clinton ramps up her efforts to secure support among women, she is renewing her push for a bill aimed at reducing the wage gap between men and women.

The measure, dubbed the “Paycheck Fairness Act,” would step up enforcement of anti-discrimination laws, create a training program for women to enhance their negotiation skills, ban employers from retaliating against employees who disclose their salaries, and allow women to sue for punitive damages, in addition to general compensation, under provisions of the Equal Pay Act.

Mrs. Clinton and other supporters say the bill is intended to stop discrimination against female employees. They cite an oft-repeated statistic that the average woman working a full-time, year-round job makes only 77 cents for every dollar that the average man makes. Critics say that statistic is misleading and does not take into account the fact that men and women often choose different types of employment.

The bill would also require increased data collection by the Department of Labor on gender wage disparities, an issue on which Mrs. Clinton strongly criticized the Bush administration yesterday.

“Like so many things, this administration seems to believe that the problem will go away if they make the facts go away,” the senator told more than 1,400 people at a luncheon fund-raiser for Emily’s List, a group that supports female Democratic candidates who back abortion rights.

“If the president will not sign my bill to ensure equal pay for equal work, then as the next president, I will,” she said to applause.

Mrs. Clinton is making the bill part of her intensified appeal for female voters as she seeks the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. Her campaign yesterday launched “Women for Hillary,” a nationwide network of female leaders charged with spreading the word about her candidacy.

The former first lady spoke among friends yesterday; Emily’s List was one of the earliest supporters of her presidential campaign, and its president and founder, Ellen Malcolm, was effusive in talking up Mrs. Clinton, pointing to her toughness as a chief presidential attribute.

“She’s the only candidate on the Democratic side who has stood up and gone toe-to-toe with the vast Republican machine and come out the winner,” Ms. Malcolm said.

Taking a shot at the failed 2004 candidacy of Senator Kerry of Massachusetts, Ms. Malcolm told the crowd: “Hillary Clinton won’t be Swift Boated. She knows how to fight back.”

Before Mrs. Clinton spoke, organizers played a video imagining Inauguration Day if she won the presidency, concluding with a close-up image of her holding up her right hand to take the oath of office. Mrs. Clinton joked that Ms. Malcolm “sprang” the video on her, but she gave it a thumbs up. “I liked the color of the outfit, the hair looked great,” she said to laughs, “and all we have to do is win.”

She said the Paycheck Fairness Act would be introduced jointly in the House by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat of Connecticut. The measure drew criticism from some, who said it would overregulate the market. “They basically would give the government new power to micromanage how wages are set,” the vice president for policy at the Independent Women’s Forum, Carrie Lukas, said. She added that the bill could restrict flexibility in hiring, since some women choose to take lower salaries in exchange for shorter hours that allow them more time to care for children.

Critics also argue that the disparity in pay between men and women in part reflects higher salaries for certain types of jobs that men are more likely to hold. “Men often take on dirty, more dangerous, and more depressing jobs in order to maximize pay,” Ms. Lukas said.

This article was first published in The New York Sun.