Video of the Day: The GOP's Real War on the Lilly Ledbetter Act

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It's a mistake to underestimate the depth of antipathy among Republicans for laws mandating equal pay for women.

At the risk of wading back into the silliness of last week's "War on Women" controversy (it's unclear who won, but it seems like women lost), it's worth looking closely at the debate over Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

On Wednesday, during a conference call devoted to refuting charges that Romney was in trouble with women, Huffington Post's Sam Stein asked advisers whether the candidate backed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. After an uncomfortably long pause, they said they'd have to get back to him. Later, Boston confirmed that Romney "supports pay equity and is not looking to change current law." Monday, Diane Sawyer pressed him further on whether he would have signed the bill. "I'm not going to go back and look at all the prior laws and say had I been there which ones would I have supported and signed, but I certainly support equal pay for women and -- and have no intention of changing that law, don't think there's a reason to," Romney said.

That prompted New York's Dan Amira to poke fun at Romney, arguing he should have either said that although he backed equal pay, he worried that the Ledbetter Act leads to frivolous lawsuits; or else he should have just said he would have signed it, since no Republican is going to vote against him over this law.

Is that really true? That's where this video comes in. It's a clip of an interview with Tory Mazzola, executive director of the New Hampshire GOP. Asked about the law, he doesn't even pay lip service to the question of equal pay. Here's his full quote:

Instead of this being about fair pay it's really about a hand out to trial lawyers, because it expands the areas that people can sue their employers unnecessarily. If Democrats really want to help women they should focus on the fact that women saw the slowest economic growth and jobs during the last year. They're one of the demographics that are really struggling to find work, and if they focused on jobs and the economy instead of political payback we'd be in a much better position.

This view actually seems fairly representative. Beyond Romney's tepid comments, few if any Republicans have spoken up in favor of the law. Keep in mind, when the law passed, it did so almost exactly on party lines. Just three House Republicans voted in favor; in the Senate, the only GOP yeas were Susan Collins, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Olympia Snowe, and Arlen Specter -- except for Hutchison, all noted moderates (and within months, Specter would become a Democrat).

Does the Republican Party believe that women should be paid less for equal work? Of course not. But the party was staunchly against the Ledbetter Act in January 2009, and it has only moved to the right since then. And in fact, this law is a perfect example of what many conservatives see as government overreach. Romney still isn't the slickest or most courageous politician the GOP has ever nominated, but his wisdom in sitting on the fence in this case is underrated.

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David A. Graham

David Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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