In a presidential campaign in which each side has focused on outflanking the other on women's empowerment and equality, Mitt Romney could not be doing a much worse job on Lilly Ledbetter. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first piece of legislation signed by Barack Obama as president, gives women more leeway to file equal-pay lawsuits by resetting the statute of limitations with each new discriminatory paycheck. Republicans in Congress, thinking the bill overly litigious, almost uniformly opposed Ledbetter. Mitt Romney never took a stance on the law when it was passed. And now he's refusing to, in the Mitt Romney-est way possible.
The issue first came up on a conference call last week; when Romney's aides were asked whether Romney supports Ledbetter, they didn't know. Romney's campaign later confirmed only that Romney would not seek to change the law. But would he have signed it if he was president in 2009? Diane Sawyer tried to find out yesterday:
DIANE SAWYER: I want to talk about a couple of issues relating to women. This 19 point difference between you and the president on women. Here are some specific questions. If you were president — you had been president — would you have signed the Lilly Ledbetter Law?
MITT ROMNEY: It's certainly a piece of legislation I have no intend — intention of changing. I wasn't there three years ago —
DIANE SAWYER: But would you have signed it?
MITT ROMNEY: — so I — 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.
There are two ways Romney could handle this better. First, he could simply kill the issue by confirming that he would have signed the law. Maybe some Republicans wouldn't like that, but there isn't a Republican alive that wouldn't vote for Romney over his support for Ledbetter. He could also say, "Look, of course I'm in favor of equal pay for women, but I think this particular bill, the way it was written, could open up the door to frivolous lawsuits, which we can all agree we have enough of already. But I'll be entirely focused on getting the economy moving again, not amending Ledbetter."
Instead, Romney did it the Romney Way. By being evasive and vague and trying to have it both ways, he keeps the question unsettled, and guarantees that he'll be asked about it again and again, while giving Democrats the opportunity to question Romney's dedication to women's equality. Most Americans probably don't even know what Ledbetter is, but the Obama campaign will be glad to explain it to them, simply, as a law that helps women secure equal pay for equal work — a law which Romney, for some unknown but probably nefarious reason, won't support. That sound good to you, ladies?