WASHINGTON President Barack Obama pushed the Senate on Tuesday to pass long-stalled legislation that would make it easier for women to sue companies if they are paid less than men, a move that could aggravate tensions with business leaders.
The House of Representatives passed the "Paycheck Fairness Act" in January 2009, but the measure faces opposition from some Republican senators and business groups who consider it government intrusion into the private sector.
"This is not just a question of fairness for hard-working women," Obama said in a statement. "Paycheck discrimination hurts families who lose out on badly needed income.
"And with so many families depending on women's wages, it hurts the American economy as a whole. In difficult economic times like these, we simply cannot afford this discriminatory burden."
Obama swept to the White House in 2008 with more business support than usually garnered by Democratic candidates, but tensions have grown as some groups charged he has neglected job creation and sowed economic uncertainty with burdensome tax and regulatory policies.
Republican President George W. Bush had threatened to veto a version of the bill in 2007.
An update of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the legislation would put gender discrimination on par with other forms of discrimination, like racial discrimination. It would increase penalties for equal pay violations and bar retaliation against workers who ask about wage practices or disclose their own wages, among other provisions.
Obama issued his statement on Tuesday before his Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force presented recommendations including efforts to coordinate between enforcement agencies and inform employees about their rights.
"This comes down to a simple proposition. It comes down to a quality of life issue, not just for the woman but for everyone around her," Vice President Joe Biden said at a ceremony introducing the findings.
(Additional reporting by Ross Colvin, editing by Doina Chiacu)