By Mike Lillis
President Obama intensified pressure on Congress to bolster economic opportunities for women in his much touted "year of action."
In Saturday's weekly address, the president challenged lawmakers to raise the minimum wage – which would benefit female workers disproportionately – and ensure that women receive the same pay as men.
"A woman deserves to earn equal pay for equal work, and paid leave that lets you take a day off to care for a sick child or parent," the president added. "Congress needs to act on these priorities."
March is Women's History Month and Obama's remarks come as Democrats in Congress are pushing a women's economic agenda that includes bills to promote pay equity in the workplace, raise the minimum wage, more affordable child care and encourage a balance between jobs and family for the nation's working women.
"For goodness sakes, people who work full-time should be able to support their family and not have to live in poverty," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said Thursday.
Republican leaders have rejected those proposals, arguing that they would discourage businesses from hiring new workers amidst of a long-standing jobs crisis that's shown little sign of abating.
The Republican economic plan focuses instead on efforts to repeal Obama's healthcare reform law, cut safety-net programs, reduce taxes and scale back federal regulations – provisions they contend will lend a boost to all workers, including women.
"There aren't enough jobs out there," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said last week. "We're not expanding the economy. Wages aren't increasing. And it's because of the president's policies."
Obama on Saturday applauded those states and private businesses that have already increased their minimum wage in the absence of congressional action. He also highlighted the steps his administration has done unilaterally, namely his executive order last month hiking the minimum wage for federal contract employees from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour.
Still, Obama said those efforts fall short of what's needed to promote a full recovery, and he called on Congress to finish the job.
"A true opportunity agenda is one that works for working women. Because when women succeed, America succeeds," Obama said. "We do better when everyone participates, and when everyone who works hard has the chance to get ahead.
"That’s what opportunity means – and it’s why I’ll keep fighting to restore it."