A group of Democratic female senators on Wednesday declared war on the so-called "gender pay gap," urging their colleagues to pass the aptly named Paycheck Fairness Act when Congress returns from recess next month. However, a substantial gender pay gap exists in their own offices, a Washington Free Beacon analysis of Senate salary data reveals.
Of the five senators who participated in Wednesday’s press conference—Barbara Mikulski (D., Md.), Patty Murray (D., Wash.), Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.), Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) and Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.)—three pay their female staff members significantly less than male staffers.
Murray, who has repeatedly accused Republicans of waging a "war a women," is one of the worst offenders. Female members of Murray’s staff made about $21,000 less per year than male staffers in 2011, a difference of 33.8 percent.
That is well above the 23 percent gap that Democrats claim exists between male and female workers nationwide. The figure is based on a 2010 U.S. Census Bureau report, and is technically accurate. However, as CNN’s Lisa Sylvester has reported, when factors such as area of employment, hours of work, and time in the workplace are taken into account, the gap shrinks to about 5 percent.
A significant "gender gap" exists in Feinstein’s office, where women also made about $21,000 less than men in 2011, but the percentage difference—41 percent—was even higher than Murray’s.
Boxer’s female staffers made about $5,000 less, a difference of 7.3 percent.
The Free Beacon used publicly available salary data from the transparency website Legistorm to calculate the figures, and considered only current full-time staff members who were employed for the entirety of fiscal year 2011.
The employee gender pay gap among Senate Democrats was not limited to Murray, Boxer, and Feinstein. Of the 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus examined in the analysis, 37 senators paid their female staffers less than male staffers.
Senators elected in 2010—Joe Manchin, Chris Coons, and Richard Blumenthal—were not considered due to incomplete salary data.
Women working for Senate Democrats in 2011 pulled in an average salary of $60,877. Men made about $6,500 more.
While the gap is significant, it is slightly smaller than that of the White House, which pays men about $10,000, or 13 percent, more on average, according to a previous Free Beacon analysis.
The pay differential is quite striking in some cases, especially among leading Democrats. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), who runs the Senate Democratic messaging operation, paid men $19,454 more on average, a 36 percent difference.
Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) paid men $13,063 more, a difference of 23 percent.
Other notable Senators whose "gender pay gap" was larger than 23 percent:
- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.)—47.6 percent
- Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D., N.M.)—40 percent
- Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.)—34.2 percent
- Sen. Ben Cardin (D., Md.)—31.5 percent
- Sen. Tom Carper (D., Del.)—30.4 percent
- Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.)–29.7 percent
- Sen. Kent Conrad (D., N.D.)–29.2 percent
- Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.)—26.5 percent
- Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore)—26.4 percent
- Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa)—23.2 percent
Sen. Sanders, who is an avowed socialist who caucuses with the Democrats, has the worst gender gap by far. He employed more men (14) than women (10), and his chief of staff is male. Like many of his fellow partisans, he has previously accused Republicans of "trying to roll back the clock on women’s rights."
One possible explanation for the pay disparity is the noticeable preference among Senate Democrats’ for male chiefs of staff, who typically draw the highest congressional salaries. Of the 46 Democratic Senators listing a chief of staff on their payroll in 2011, 13 were women.
A similar disparity exists in the White House, which employs 74 men and only 48 women in senior positions.
Senate Democrats have been actively pushing the issue of equal pay over the past several days. "In 19 of the 20 most common occupations for men or women, women earn less for the same work. We need #EqualPay," the official Twitter account of Senate Democrats wrote on Tuesday.
Sen. Murray has invoked the so-called GOP "war on women" in fundraising pitches for months. "Women are people. That should be obvious, but apparently it isn’t, at least not to extreme Republicans who see us as mere targets of their political strategy," she wrote in May 10, 2012, campaign fundraising e-mail.
Senate Democrats plan to bring the Paycheck Fairness Act, which some have described as a "trial lawyers’ payday" that would facilitate large punitive damage claims in discrimination suits, up for a vote following the Memorial Day recess.
Congress already passed equal pay legislation in January 2009. President Obama has frequently touted that bill—the Lilly Ledbetter Act—as the first piece of legislation he signed upon taking office, and has sought to declare "problem solved" on the issue of equal pay for women.
"We passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act—the first bill I signed—so that equal pay for equal work is a reality all across this country," he said in June 2009.
When it comes to prosecuting instances of gender pay discrimination, however, the Obama administration has been far less active than that of his Republican predecessor George W. Bush. Under Obama, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed six gender-based wage discrimination lawsuits. That number is down from 18 lawsuits filed during Bush’s second term.