WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked debate on a bill to combat pay discrimination against women and L.G.B.T.Q. workers, the first in a series of votes set up by Democratic leaders this month to highlight the power of the filibuster to stop even the consideration of legislation.
The Paycheck Fairness Act, which failed, 49 to 50, was never going to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster and bring it to the Senate floor under existing rules. The bill, which passed the House in April, has been on the Democratic wish list since 1997. Among other legal provisions, it would require employers to prove that pay disparities between men and women are job related and would strengthen the hand of plaintiffs filing class-action lawsuits that challenge pay discrimination.
Republicans have long said it was an unnecessary measure that would primarily benefit trial lawyers, while Democrats point to pervasive disparities in pay between women and men that other laws have not remedied.
“There’s absolutely nothing controversial about making sure every worker gets paid fairly for their work,” Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, said on Tuesday.
But the bill’s fast-track introduction by Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, had a broader purpose: to build support for changing Senate rules to modify or end the legislative filibuster. Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona are the most outspoken Democratic defenders of the filibuster, but other senators who caucus with the party have their misgivings.
Just before the votes were cast, Mr. Schumer declared, “There are real limits to bipartisanship here in the Senate,” adding: “Every Senate Democrat is ready to start debate, but Senate Republicans seem to be mounting another partisan filibuster on this bill. It’s ridiculous.”
The blocking of the pay equity bill was preceded last month by a filibuster of legislation to create a bipartisan commission to examine the roots, causes and consequences of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. This month, Mr. Schumer plans to bring up a far-reaching voting rights and presidential ethics bill. He fully expects that one will also fall to a filibuster.
How persuasive those defeats will be with Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema is unclear. In some sense, the message was undermined minutes earlier by the wide bipartisan vote to pass a China competition bill, which Mr. Schumer hailed as “one of the Senate’s most significant bipartisan achievements in recent history.”
So far, Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema have not budged.
“The bottom line, there’s a lot more work on the dialogue with Joe Manchin,” said Marc H. Morial, the president of the National Urban League, one of several civil rights leaders who met with the senator on Tuesday to press him on ending the filibuster.