Politics

Obama chides GOP for rejecting gender pay gap bill

HOUSTON (AP) — Denouncing the current Congress as the least productive in modern history, President Barack Obama chided Republicans on Wednesday for blocking a Senate bill aimed at narrowing the gender pay gap — an issue Democrats are counting on to give them an advantage in the fall elections.

Revving up Democratic donors at an opulent home in Houston, Obama said the legislation advocated by Democrats seems like common sense to most Americans, creating a pathway to meaningfully enforce the concept of equal pay for equal work. He sought to portray Wednesday's failed Senate vote as part of a broader Republican strategy to obstruct any progress before voters go to the polls.

"You would think that that at this point it would not be a controversial proposition, and yet the Republicans in the Senate uniformly decided to say no," Obama said, hours after Democrats failed to secure enough votes to advance the bill.

Republicans say the bill could hinder employers from granting raises or permitting flexible hours for fear of costly lawsuits. Democrats disagree, and hope the issue will spur women to back them by wide margins in November.

In an equally forceful rebuke to Republicans, Obama accused the GOP of seeking to restrict access to voting in Texas and elsewhere. When one donor shouted out that the GOP effort was "un-American," the president concurred.

"How is it that we're putting up with that?" Obama asked incredulously. Obama's remarks at a sprawling, resort-like home belonging to a prominent Texas attorney and Obama supporter came at the midpoint of a two-day Texas swing in which Obama was adopting multiple roles. Earlier Wednesday, he eulogized three soldiers who died last week in a shooting spree at Fort Hood, then hopped a quick flight to Houston for a pair of Democratic fundraisers. On Thursday, the president and first lady Michelle Obama will travel to Austin, where he will speak at a summit marking the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.

Making the pitch to the Democratic Party's high-dollar donors has become an increasingly frequent duty for Obama as his party girds for an election that could result in Republicans seizing the Senate and strengthening their hold on the House. Reprising an argument he's been making to Democrats across the country this year, Obama implored his party to take the midterm elections as seriously as they take presidential elections and to deny Republicans the chance to turn gridlock into a political advantage.

"Here's the disconcerting thing: Obstruction may actually be a good political strategy if Democrats don't vote in the midterms," Obama said, arguing that public opinion favors Democrats on the issues but that turnout is the party's Achilles heel. "We have this congenital disease, which is in midterm elections, we don't vote."

About 60 donors gave at least $16,200 to attend the fundraiser benefiting the Democratic campaign committees for House and Senate, Democratic officials said. At another private home in Houston earlier Wednesday, about 30 donors gave up to $32,400 each to boost the Democratic National Committee.

Follow Josh Lederman at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP

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