In these closing days before the election, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee continues to run ads against several Republican incumbents attacking them over equal pay for women. For example, they claim Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., "voted against equal pay 11 times." A similar ad says Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., "opposes equal pay."
Viewers shouldn't be fooled: These are unfair attacks. When Democrats say conservatives "oppose equal pay" the phrasing needs a translation.
The "equal pay" legislation Democrats refer to in these ads includes the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (which became law in 2009) and the Paycheck Fairness Act (still a bill). Like the Affordable Care Act, these pieces of legislation have nice-sounding — but entirely misleading — names.
Neither of these acts guarantees equal pay for women. Our country settled that issue long ago, in the 1960s, when the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act were passed. The two laws prohibit sex-based discrimination in the workplace.
The premise behind these modern-day "equal pay" proposals is that government needs to take further action to close the wage gap — the statistic that shows women earn, on average, about 20 percent less than men. Democrats often suggest the gap is primarily driven by discrimination.
But it's not. Among other factors, the wage gap is largely caused by women's choices of professions and the fact that women spend less time on the job.
So if the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act don't guarantee equal pay, what do they actually do? They both deal with lawsuits, not equal pay. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act restarts the statute of limitations for discrimination claims any time compensation is affected by discrimination, including pension benefits.
The Paycheck Fairness Act, if passed, would make it so women have to opt out of class action discrimination suits, rather than opting into such suits as they do now. Employers would essentially have to prove their innocence, a complete inversion of our justice system's guiding principle: innocent until proven guilty. This would be a field day for trial lawyers, but wouldn't do much for women. In fact, it would end up backfiring on us.
Many conservatives (who support the concept of equal pay for equal work) believe these two pieces of legislation inappropriately change when, how or by whom discrimination lawsuits can be filed. The fear is that, by increasing employers' legal exposure, we could ultimately create disincentives to employing women.
Furthermore, the Paycheck Fairness Act could result in less flexibility for women who would prefer to trade higher pay for other benefits, like the ability to work from home. Employers, fearful of pay discrimination lawsuits, might no longer offer such options. In other words, conservatives reject this legislation because they think it would harm — not help —women.
Some voters disagree with the GOP positions on Lilly Ledbetter and the Paycheck Fairness Act. But we ought to have all the facts when deciding which candidates to support. The truth is that today's conservatives don't oppose equal pay for equal work. It's misleading to suggest that they do.
Hadley Heath Manning is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. She is a senior policy analyst and director of health policy at the Independent Women's Forum.