Mitt Romney Hesitates on Equal Pay for Women Question

What Women Really Think
April 11 2012 7:37 PM

Does Mitt Romney Support Equal Pay for Women? 

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Apparently, the upcoming recall election is not enough controversy for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Last Thursday he decided to step it up a notch by also repealing the 2009 Equal Pay Enforcement Act in Wisconsin.

And since Mitt Romney has recently expressed his support for Walker—at a GOP dinner in Pewaukee, Romney called Walker a “hero”—the conversation on equal pay has shifted from the governor to the presidential candidate. Immediately following the repeal, President Barack Obama’s campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith emphasized Walker and Romney’s friendship and pointedly asked: “Does Romney think women should have the ability to take their bosses to court to get the same pay as their male coworkers? Or does he stand with Governor Walker against this?”

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Initially, it did not seem that the Romney campaign cared to answer. But that changed this morning when Huffington Post journalist Sam Stein asked during a conference call whether Romney supports the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill signed into law by President Obama. The Romney aide’s answer: “Sam, we’ll get back to you on that.”

It is concerning, to say the least, that Romney’s campaign could not provide a simple yes or no answer for whether Romney supports Lilly Ledbetter—a straightforward law that was designed to make challenging unequal pay easier for women. How can a campaign that is currently trying to flip the “war on women” conversation and encouraging voters to focus on Romney and Obama’s economic policies affecting women, rather than social policies, not have a stock response for Stein's query? Isn’t equal pay an economic issue? On Tuesday, the Romney campaign claimed that “one million women have lost their jobs under this administration, nearly one million have become unemployed as a result of Obama's policies” and accused the Obama administration of having “set women in the workplace back 20 years.”  And on Wednesday it wasn’t sure whether Romney supports pay equity.  

Romney’s campaign did eventually confirm that Romney “supports pay equity and is not looking to change current law” but the damage was already done. I would venture to say this debacle will ensure that few women will be fooled by Romney's guile. We’re smarter than that. 

Caroline Esser is a program associate at the New America Foundation.