A Democratic bill to raise the federal minimum wage failed in a procedural Senate vote on Wednesday.
After the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, “Today, we saw a clear distinction between what we’re fighting for, we Democrats, and the Republicans, what they’re fighting for. They’re fighting for the billionaires. We’re fighting for people who are struggling to make a living.”
Democrats needed 60 votes to move forward with the legislation that would raise minimum wage in three phases, finally reaching $10.10 an hour. The bill fell 5 votes short.
Many Republican senators who opposed the bill said that the Democratic plan was too expensive and would lead to a lull in hiring during an already low job market growth. “It’s too high, too fast,” said Ohio Senator Rob Portman, who—like Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins—favors a smaller increase. Senator Collins complained that Democrats sought their figure without debate, saying, “I think it speaks to what’s wrong with Washington today—that we’re placed in a situation where it was ‘take it or leave it,’ rather than trying to come together and offer amendments and offer a level that might be acceptable.”
While Republicans have also contended that Democrats are using the bill to seek political advantage during this year’s midterm elections, liberal Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa says they are fighting to lift people out of poverty. “We will not compromise on $10.10. That just gets us above the poverty level. Anyone who wants to go below that is saying that a hard-working American who works full time all year long still will live in poverty. It’s time to get beyond that.”
While defeat was expected, President Obama still urges voters to push GOP lawmakers to embrace raising the minimum wage. With polls showing a majority of Americans support the issue, President Obama says, “My message to the American people is this: Do not get discouraged by a vote like the one we saw this morning. Get fired up. Get organized. Make your voices heard. And rest assured, I’m going to keep working with you to raise wages for hardworking Americans.”
The minimum wage increase is part of an economic agenda Senate Democrats are promoting this year to boost the middle class. A bill to address equal pay also failed during a procedural vote, and upcoming legislation to promote college affordability and cut tax breaks for the wealthy is expected to do the same.