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Senate Republicans block Obama-backed pay equity bill

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday blocked a Democrat-supported bill aimed at addressing a gap in pay between male and female workers.

On a 53-44 vote, supporters fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance the bill. Republicans called the measure a political ploy whose purpose was to attract women voters to the Democratic side in the November elections.

Forty-two Republicans and one independent, Angus King of Maine, voted against the bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid switched his vote from yes to no to reserve his right to bring up the bill again.

Democrats cast all 53 yes votes.

The action came a day after President Barack Obama signed two executive orders to help close what has been a longstanding gender pay gap by requiring federal contractors to disclose more wage data and allow employees to share salary information.

The Senate Democrats' Paycheck Fairness Act would have imposed the same requirement on private employers.

But Republicans dismissed the bill, saying pay discrimination is already illegal and that the legislation would prompt frivolous lawsuits and discourage companies from hiring women.

"This legislation would double down on job loss - all while lining the pockets of trial lawyers," said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

Reid rejected the Republicans' criticism, saying: "Simply put, the Paycheck Fairness Act gives American women the fair shot they deserve."

The bill is the first piece of the Senate Democrats' new legislative agenda, called "A Fair Shot For Everyone," which is set to be voted on in the coming weeks and months in advance of the November elections.

Other pending measures include bills to increase the minimum wage, make college more affordable, boost jobs through manufacturing and help small business development.

None of the bills may become law, but Democrats see the votes on them as a chance to rally their liberal base as they seek to retain control of the Senate and minimize anticipated Republican pickups in the House of Representatives on Election Day.

Obama intends to hold campaign-style events, as he did on Tuesday at the White House in signing the executive orders, to help draw attention to the votes, Democratic aides said.

The president has often cited data from the Census that show the average full-time female worker in the United States earned 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. Critics say the figure is misleading because factors such as types of jobs and hours worked affect whether people get higher- or lower-paying jobs.

(Reporting by Thomas Ferraro; editing by G Crosse and; Bill Trott)

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