Minimum Wage Raise to Return in Senate After Likely Loss

U.S. Senate Democrats are pledging to hold more votes before November’s election on raising the federal minimum wage, conceding they probably won’t have enough support to move the measure forward today.

“We’re going to keep bringing it back,” New York Senator Charles Schumer, the chamber’s third-ranking Democrat, said yesterday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has scheduled a procedural vote today on legislation to 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. The measure needs 60 votes to advance in the 100-member Senate.

Raising the federal 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 win a net six seats in November to gain a majority in the Senate.

“Millions of American workers will be watching how each senator votes,” Reid said today. “For Republicans, this vote will demonstrate whether they truly care about the economy.”

No Republicans have said they support the measure, and a few Democrats have expressed concern that $10.10 an hour might be too high for a wage floor. Among them is Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas, who has said he won’t support the bill.

Pryor Absent

Pryor, who is seeking a third term this year in a state that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney won by 24 percentage points in 2012, has stayed in Arkansas to assist with recovery efforts following deadly tornadoes there on April 27. Lucy Speed, a spokeswoman for Pryor, said the senator would remain in Arkansas and not be present for today’s vote.

Senators Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Warner of Virginia, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Tom Carper of Delaware are among the other Democrats who have expressed reservations about raising the wage to $10.10 an hour.

Landrieu has since said she will support the measure and Manchin said yesterday he would vote to advance the bill, S. 2223. Landrieu is seeking re-election this year in a competitive race.

Reid, a Nevada Democrat, has ruled out raising the wage to less than $10.10 an hour, even as Senator Susan Collins has been seeking support for an alternative that would include a smaller increase. No Democrats have publicly signed on to the effort by Collins, a Maine Republican.

‘Cost’ Jobs

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said yesterday that his party would oppose the wage increase because it “would actually cost -- not create but actually cost -- up to a million American jobs.”

“This is completely tone deaf,” said McConnell, who is seeking a sixth term in November. “Their bill would cost up to 17,000 jobs in Kentucky alone, and apparently this is what Senate Democrats have made their top priority.”

McConnell today likened a minimum wage increase to the 2010 health-care law, saying the U.S. public is just starting to experience the adverse economic effects of that measure.

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.

Retail Federation

In a letter to senators yesterday, the National Retail Federation urged opposition to the measure and said it would include today’s vote in its annual legislative scorecard.

“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 is still unlikely to 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. “That’s what the science says. As President Obama likes to say, the ‘debate is and should be over.’”

Obama is scheduled to speak in support of the wage increase from the White House at 3:10 p.m. Washington time.

The Senate measure’s chief sponsor, Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, told reporters yesterday that support for the wage increase may build in subsequent rounds of votes as the public becomes more aware of the issue. Polls show support for raising the minimum wage.

“I think more and more people are going to be talking about this in local communities, and we’ve got a lot of businesses on board now that think this is the right thing to do,” Harkin said. “So yeah, I think the pressure’s going to mount.”

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