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Obama signs equal pay law

From NBC's Athena Jones

With the stroke of a pen, President Obama signed his first bill into law and fulfilled a campaign promise to help make it easier to sue for equal pay.

The bill is named for an Alabama woman who found out her employer, Goodyear, had been paying her less than her male counterparts for years, but she was prevented from suing because of a statute of limitations in effect at the time. The new law effectively extends the statute of limitations.

Obama spoke often of the equal pay issue during the campaign, as did then-rival Hillary Clinton. And the president made special note of the fact that this was the first piece of legislation he was signing into law.

"It is fitting that the very first bill that I sign -- the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act -- that it is upholding one of this nation's founding principles: that we are all created equal, and each deserve a chance to pursue our own version of happiness," he said.

Ledbetter joined Obama on stage with Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Clinton and a group of lawmakers that included Democrats like Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Steny Hoyer, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Sen. Harry Reid, and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (who said as the group assembled on stage before the event "This is what change looks like.") Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe also attended.

"And it is fitting that we are joined this morning by the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi," Obama continued, to applause. "It's appropriate that this is the first bill we do together. We could not have done it without her. Madam Speaker, thank you for your extraordinary work."

Calling equal pay not just a women's issue but a family issue, Obama said the bill he signed today was for the women across the country who are still earning just 78 cents for every dollar men earn. "It's about parents who find themselves with less money for tuition and child care; couples who wind up with less to retire on; households where one bread-winner is paid less than she deserves; that's the difference between affording the mortgage -- or not; between keeping the heat on, or paying the doctor bills -- or not," he said.

The president went on to tie this bill to the country's economic woes, which is Issue No.1 as he seeks to get a recovery package through Congress.

"In this economy, when so many folks are already working harder for less and struggling to get by, the last thing they can afford is losing part of each month's paycheck to simple and plain discrimination," he said. "So signing this bill today is to send a clear message: that making our economy work means making sure it works for everybody; that there are no second-class citizens in our workplaces; and that it's not just unfair and illegal, it's bad for business to pay somebody less because of their gender or their age or their race or their ethnicity, religion or disability; and that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory, or footnote in a casebook."