Updated 11:10 a.m.
Senate Democrats are preparing to hold a series of votes on proposed legislation designed to address economic issues, including raising the minimum wage and paying for college, a strategy designed to help draw contrasts with Republicans ahead of November's elections.
The formal unveiling of a legislative agenda comes at one of the lowest points for the Senate Democratic caucus in recent years. Polling in several states continues to show incumbent Democratic senators running even or slipping behind Republican opponents, while the GOP is showing strength in states not originally considered at-risk, including New Hampshire and Colorado.
Labeled "A Fair Shot for Everyone," the Democratic game plan is expected to begin next week with a vote on a proposal to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, according to senior Democratic aides. The strategy will continue over the next several months with votes on proposals to close the pay gap between men and women; find ways to lower interest rates on student loans and help the parents of future students pay for college; and a proposal to end the tax deduction for businesses that ship equipment overseas.
None of the proposals is likely to earn widespread Republican support or ever head to President Obama for his signature. That's not the point. Instead, Democrats hope to use the votes and ensuing debate as fodder over the next eight months in hopes of staving off potential losses in several states.
Each of the proposals is long-sought by Democrats, who believe that running on issues of economic fairness will drive turnout among reliable Democratic constituencies: Women, the young, minority groups and blue-collar workers.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) dismissed the new strategy Wednesday morning, saying that Democrats are planning "one more year of turning the Senate floor into a campaign studio." He said the Senate should instead be focused on reaching bipartisan agreement on a series of job-creation bills passed by the GOP-controlled House.
Work on the strategy began in February at the annual Senate Democratic policy retreat, where members heard from Obama and former President Bill Clinton. During the meetings, senators agreed that their focus should be on developing a "middle class agenda for 2014," according to the aides, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the strategy.
Even as Democrats plan to hold votes on so-called "messaging bills," aides said Democratic leaders remain committed to a plan that also will allow votes on modest bipartisan proposals in hopes of restoring a sense of cooperation in the often-fractured chamber. Most recently, senators voted to reauthorize a federal child-care development block grant program and soon are expected to consider other popular bipartisan topics, including federal sentencing reform and finding ways to bolster the nation's economic sector.
News of the new strategy was first reported by The New York Times.