It’s about time

IT’S ABOUT TIME…. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is finally poised to become law.

The Senate approved landmark worker rights legislation on Thursday that will make it easier for those who think they’ve endured pay discrimination to seek legal help. The vote was 61-36.

The House of Representatives approved a similar measure on January 9, three days after the 111th Congress convened. Because the Senate made modest changes in the House version, the House must pass it again. Once it does, as is assured, this will be one of the first bills that President Barack Obama signs into law.

The measure passed the House in the last Congress, and enjoyed majority support in the Senate, but was blocked by a Republican filibuster.

Looking over the roll call, every Democrat in the Senate (sans Kennedy and the two vacant seats) voted for the bill, as did five Republicans — Collins (Maine), Hutchison (Texas), Murkowski (Alaska), Snowe (Maine), and Specter (Pennsylvania). Every woman in the chamber supported the legislation.

To hear opponents of the bill tell it, making it easier to challenge pay discrimination will lead to more lawsuits. That’s almost certainly true. But therein lies the point — if American workers are facing unjust wage discrimination, there should be more lawsuits. Those are worthwhile lawsuits, challenging an injustice. Ideally, employers would stop discriminating, as most already do, and in turn, there’d be fewer lawsuits.

Nevertheless, 36 Senate Republicans, some of whom are up for re-election in 2010, and all of whom knew full well that the bill was going to pass anyway, voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. (If you’re unfamiliar with the Ledbetter case, the NYT recently had a good editorial on the subject.)

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.