Senate Republicans block minimum wage increase bill

 

The Senate voted on Wednesday against going ahead on a bill that would gradually increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, another rejection for legislation that has been a major focus of the Democrats' 2014 midterm campaign.

The final vote count was 54 to 42, with Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who supports the legislation, taking the procedural step of voting against the bill so that he can reintroduce it at a later time.

In a news conference following the vote, top Democrats vowed to reintroduce the bill this year. 

"Soon," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, (D-N.Y.), as he ducked into an elevator following the vote. "Sometime soon."

However, it remains unclear when -- if at all -- they will reintroduce it and whether they have any path toward winning approval this year.

They needed to amass 60 votes to overcome a Republican filibuster of the bill, which was introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). But they were able to sway only one Republican -- Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) -- to vote in favor of proceeding. Even if the measure had passed in the Senate, the chances that  a minimum wage increase widely opposed by the GOP could make it through the Republican-run House of Representatives this year seemed improbable.

But the bill is part of the Democrats' broader “Fair Shot for All” midterm campaign, so they are likely to continue to push the minimum wage through the fall despite the vote, banking on its popularity among voters to lift their prospects. Democrats are arguing that they are the party looking out for average Americans while Republicans are the party of special interests.

“By preventing even a vote on this bill they prevented a raise for 28 million hardworking Americans. They said no to helping millions work their way out of poverty,” President Obama said during a news conference this afternoon. “They told Americans like the ones who are here today that: you’re on your own.”

During a speech on Wednesday, President Obama condemned Republicans in Congress for voting against increasing minimum wage. (The Associated Press)

The Democrats have also been pushing popular bills that would extend emergency unemployment insurance and address paycheck disparities between men and women, as well as a bipartisan manufacturing jobs bill. But on the roster of “fair shot” legislation, the minimum wage increase was a major focus of top Democrats, including Obama and members of his cabinet.

Four senators -- Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Roger Wicker (R- Miss.) -- missed the vote.

Pryor, Cochran and Wicker were in their home states dealing with the response to deadly tornadoes. Boozman was home recovering from heart surgery. All four were expected to vote against advancing the bill.

Democrats  immediately expressed outrage at the bill's failure.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the vote was evidence of the "Republican disregard for the working people of our nation," while Labor Secretary Thomas Perez also quickly condemned the vote.

"The senators who voted "no" today are doing so contrary to the wishes of the American people,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Wednesday.

Had Congress debated and then passed the minimum wage bill, it would have gradually raised the $7.25 hourly minimum wage to $10.10 over the course of 30 months. It also would have provided automatic annual increases pegged to inflation.

Several public polls find most Americans support raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10, including 69 percent a March Bloomberg News poll and 65 percent in a February CBS News/New York Times survey. In the latter poll, sizeable majorities of independents (62 percent) and Democrats (86 percent) supported a wage hike, while 54 percent of Republicans opposed the idea.

While not among Americans’ top priorities for Obama and Congress, Democrats’ could benefit from an higher profile battle over the minimum wage as the midterm election approaches. Half of Americans in a March Washington Post-ABC News poll said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports raising the minimum wage; 19 percent would be less likely while the rest said it makes no difference.

Republicans insisted that raising the federal minimum wage would hurt businesses and would not be a substantive step to addressing poverty.

“If our purpose is to increase the wages of all Americans, I believe there are better ways to accomplish this goal,” said Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), the senior Republican on the Joint Economic Committee, in a statement after the vote. “Raising the minimum wage creates winners and losers -- it will raise the wages of some but result in job losses for many low-income workers. The true problem plaguing impoverished Americans is not low wage rates but a lack of good job opportunities.”

While Democrats vow to continue fighting in favor of the minimum wage and paycheck fairness legislation, they also acknowledge that their inability to get these measures passed into law could help them in 2014.

Essentially, they could win by losing.

Much of the Democrats 2014 strategy rests on their ability to paint Republicans as out of touch with everyday Americans. By introducing a series of bills that are popular with Americans but that end up being blocked by Republicans, the Democrats hope to mobilize their voter base in advance of November elections in which the desperately need strong turnout among their base if they want to retain control of the Senate.

Scott Wilson and Scott Clement contributed to this report.

Wesley Lowery covers Capitol Hill for The Fix and Post Politics.
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