Can President Obama and Senate Democrats win by losing on the minimum wage?

 

The Senate voted against opening debate on a bill to hike the federal minimum wage Wednesday.

And while Democrats, labor and left-leaning groups and pundits nationwide will be up in arms about this for the remainder of the news cycle, the outcome should surprise no one.

Republicans — armed with a report from the Congressional Budget Office that said the bill would cause a dip in employment —  had long signaled that they would not support the bill in its current form.

But the Democrats went ahead anyway. They held conference calls and media events and rallies. They mobilized their biggest names, including President Obama, on a nationwide messaging push behind the minimum wage legislation.

And the result? The bill only got one Republican vote, falling well short of the 60-vote threshold needed to open debate.

If this sounds familiar, that's because it is.

Last month, Democrats did essentially the same thing for the Paycheck Fairness bill, which aimed to cut down on disparities in pay between men and women.

There was news conference after news conference on Capitol Hill, impassioned speeches from the Senate floor, and Democratic women lawmakers even started walking around wearing necklaces made of Payday candy bars.

And it was all for nothing. The bill couldn't pass. And it didn't.

Republicans had clearly signaled  that they would not support the paycheck fairness bill. On the minimum wage bill, the Democrats resisted compromise efforts by refusing a bill that did anything but raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. After several votes to pass emergency unemployment extension, the legislation headed to the House, where the GOP House leadership has signaled that it won't bring a vote on the bill.

So why, a reasonable person might ask, are Democrats continually pushing bills that seem dead on arrival?

Because passing the bills isn't the point.

That's not to say that Senate Democrats don't truly believe that the minimum wage should be higher, or that gender-based pay disparities should be eliminated, or that the long-term unemployed should get more financial help. Of course they do.

But with a narrow majority in the Senate and a GOP-controlled House, the Democrats know that these measures stand next to no chance of being passed into law this year.

Instead, they hope to force Republicans — during a crucial midterm election year — to vote against a series of bills that are otherwise popular with the electorate. Republican opposition to many of these measures is nothing new, but what better time to remind the American people of this than in the months before they head to the ballot box?

"If the Republicans continue to block (the minimum wage increase), the American people will hold them accountable this November," Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said in a news conference after the vote — voicing Democratic hopes about what may happen in November.

Likewise, Obama placed the blame solely on Republicans for the failure to raise the minimum wage. Using the Democrats' "fair shot" rhetoric, he repeatedly called out Senate Republicans for opposing the bill, telling those in attendance to "tweet at them."

Republicans have routinely criticized their Democratic counterparts for what they're calling messaging bills. And it is unclear whether the Republican opposition to these bills will be enough to mobilize left-leaning voters this November.

This strategy is not unlike the Republican tactic of constantly bringing bills in the House to repeal the long-ago-passed Affordable Care Act. The House has voted tons of times to repeal or tweak Obamacare, knowing full and well that the chances of any of their bills making it through the Senate and then being signed by the president are slim to none.

But again, with the GOP planning on making voter discontent with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act their primary 2014 campaign issue, the House votes areas much about messaging as the are about changing the law.

In recent months, Democrats and Republicans in Congress have made a lot of noise about policy. In reality, what they're screaming about is midterm politics.

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