WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked a top legislative and political priority of Democrats, a bill to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
The measure failed to gain enough support in a procedural vote to open debate.
In framing the issue ahead of November’s midterm elections, Democrats have portrayed the GOP as insensitive to the needs of low-wage workers.
Polls show a strong majority of Americans surveyed back raising the minimum wage, which currently stands at $7.25.
Even if the Senate had moved ahead with the legislation, there was little chance the House, which is led by Republicans, would have taken it up.
Still, Democrats are vowing to return to the issue.
“This is an emotional issue,” acknowledged Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina who is up for re-election. But “from an economic point of view, if you want to increase the minimum wage you’re going to displace probably a million people from the economy at a time when we should be hiring people.”
Sen. Rob Portman also weighed in this week.
“I’m not in favor of the proposal of $10.10. I think it’s too high, too fast. I think it will result in job loss,” said the Ohio Republican who favors a smaller increase like the one adopted in his state.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte also said the wage hike would lead to a reduction in jobs in her state at a time when the economy is vulnerable.
“My first job was as a bus girl at a restaurant in New Hampshire making minimum wage,” the Granite State Republican said.
Supporters needed 60 votes to open debate in the Democratic-led chamber. They got 54.
Democrats hope the issue will drive their supporters to the polls this fall and help them hold onto the majority in the Senate. They argue it is wrong that people who work 40 hours a week making the current minimum still live in poverty.
“When workers do better, families do better,” said Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat. “When parents buy their kids enough to eat and shoes to wear, when they can get a haircut at the local barber, put gas in their car and fix up the house a little, everybody does better. The community does better, businesses do better. Families can walk tall when we reward work.”
Raising the minimum wage, the White House and other advocates argue, would have many positive effects, including increased productivity and lower turnover.
President Barack Obama in February signed an executive order raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour for federal contractors beginning in 2015, and he is pushing Congress to do the same for all workers.
Among the types of workers who would benefit from the President’s order are concession workers in national parks, nursing assistants caring for veterans, people who serve food to U.S. troops and those who maintain the grounds on military bases, the White House said.
Obama, in a statement before the vote, urged lawmakers to move ahead with the proposal that he said would help 28 million Americans.
“It’s time for Republicans in Congress to listen to the majority of Americans who say it’s time to give America a raise,” he said.
However, not all Democratic senators supported the proposal before them on Wednesday. For instance, Sen. Mark Pryor, who is facing a challenging re-election in conservative Arkansas, supports a smaller increase that is under consideration in his state.
Republicans argued the liberal agenda Reid is pushing could backfire and hurt centrist Democrats this fall.
“For the Democrats here in the Senate, particularly the vulnerable ones who are in tough competitive races, they’ve got to be particularly sensitive to the agenda the Democrats are driving,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, a GOP leader. “I think there are a lot of Democrats, on minimum wage even, that are concerned about its impact on the economy.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democrats vowed to return to the issue again and again this year.
Raising the national minimum wage appears to be popular with many voters.
Recent national polls indicated that a strong majority of Americans support raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. The most recent survey, conducted early last month by Bloomberg, put that support at 69%.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll released Tuesday indicated that by a 49%-33% margin, Americans say that the Democratic Party is closer to their views on the issue than the GOP.
And by a two-to-one margin, voters nationwide questioned earlier this month in a Quinnipiac University poll said they would be more likely than less likely to vote for a candidate who supports raising the minimum wage.
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