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.
The Senate, by a 54-42 vote with 60 required, lacked support to advance the bill, which would increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from $7.25. President Barack Obama called for the increase in his State of the Union address in January, and today the administration said in a statement it “strongly supports” the Senate bill.
“We’re going to bring this issue back over and over and over again,” Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York told reporters after the vote today.
Raising the minimum wage is a central element of congressional Democrats’ election-year focus on income inequality, an issue they say resonates with 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.
“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.
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.
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.
Obama plans to speak in support of the wage increase from the White House today at 3:10 p.m. Washington time.
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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