U.S. Senate Republicans blocked legislation to raise the federal minimum wage as the chamber’s Democrats pledged to hold more votes on the measure before November’s election.
Supporters had only 54 votes, with 60 required, to advance the bill, which would increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from $7.25. President Barack Obama, who called for the increase in his January State of the Union address, accused Republicans of pushing a “top-down” economic policy that benefits the most wealthy at the expense of lower- and middle-income Americans.
“By preventing even a vote on this bill, they prevented a raise for 28 million hardworking Americans,” Obama said at the White House after the Senate vote. “They said ‘no’ to helping millions work their way out of poverty.”
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York said Democrats will “bring this issue back over and over and over again.”
Raising the minimum wage is a central element of congressional Democrats’ election-year focus on income inequality, an issue they say appeals to voters and will help them keep control of the chamber. Republicans must gain a net six seats in November to take a majority in the Senate.
“Millions of American workers will be watching how each senator votes,” Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said on the Senate floor before the vote. “For Republicans, this vote will demonstrate whether they truly care about the economy.”
Republicans oppose the measure, which they say will cost jobs.
Ins and Outs of Supermajority Rule
“Washington Democrats are just not serious about helping the middle class,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican.
Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee was the only Republican who voted to advance the bill. Reid changed his yes vote to no to preserve his ability to bring up the measure in the future.
“I just felt like debating the best way for the standard of living for Americans to increase is an important debate to have and -- candidly -- a place where Republicans can shine,” said Corker, adding that he opposed the substance of the Democrats’ proposal.
Not voting were Arkansas Senators Mark Pryor, a Democrat, and John Boozman, a Republican, and Republicans Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran of Mississippi. They were at home dealing with recovery from deadly tornadoes.
Reid has ruled out raising the wage to less than $10.10 an hour, even as Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, has been seeking support for an alternative that would include a smaller increase. No Democrats have publicly signed on to that effort.
“We’ll compromise on lots of things but not the number,” Reid said.
Obama said a majority of Americans support raising the minimum wage and that Republicans are out of step with the public. He urged voters to make their feelings known by voting in the November congressional elections.
“If there’s any good news here, it’s that Republicans in Congress don’t get the last word on this issue, or any issue,” he said. “You do, the American people.”
A February report by the Congressional Budget Office, Congress’s nonpartisan research arm, said the Democratic plan may cost as many as 500,000 jobs while lifting about 900,000 people out of poverty.
In a letter to senators yesterday, the National Retail Federation urged opposition to the measure. The organization’s members include Target Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
“Our nation’s economy is continuing to struggle to create jobs, and this legislation will likely make it worse, particularly among younger workers,” wrote David French, the group’s senior vice president for government relations.
If Senate Democrats could muster the votes to pass a minimum wage increase, the proposal still probably won’t become law. It faces opposition in the Republican-led House of Representatives and probably wouldn’t come to a vote there.
“Raising the minimum wage may benefit a small number of people, but it’s not a real solution to poverty, income inequality, or the harmful side effects of Obamacare,” House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, wrote on his blog today.
The Senate measure’s chief sponsor, Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, said after the vote, “I’m confident that if we don’t raise the minimum wage before the election, the American people are going to note it at the ballot box.”
“Of course I’m dismayed and disappointed by the vote,” Harkin said. “We’ll be back again and again, and we’ll keep trying until we get this to the president’s desk.”
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