Senate Democrats said Wednesday that they'll be introducing a wish-list of bills meant to bolster the party ahead of the midterm elections, with votes planned on legislation to increase the minimum wage, lower the burden of student debt, make child care more affordable, and strengthen manufacturing.
The measures have little chance of passing the Senate and even less in the Republican-controlled House, but party leaders see them as important political messaging as they seek to keep control of the Senate. Senate Democratic leaders said their agenda, entitled "Fair Shot"—a phrased used by Democrats to drum up support for President Barack Obama since his first presidential campaign—will start with votes as early as next week.
“These are not just Democratic agenda items—this is an agenda for the middle class, policies that will help ensure a fair shot for everyone,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said. “Republicans here in Washington may not agree with us on all of these issues, but I hope that in the months ahead they will listen to their constituents and work with us to get things done for the middle class.”
Republicans did not take the bait. While senior Senate Democrats—Reid, Dick Durbin (Ill.), Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), Patty Murray (Wash.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.)—held a news conference in the Capitol, Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) took to the chamber floor to rip the forthcoming bills as political, election-year documents.
"They've given up," Cornyn said. "They've given up legislating and are going to spend the next several months holding a series of show votes, which are in essence those designed to highlight poll-tested messages."
"It's politics, isn't it?" Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) told TIME. "I think people back home are very concerned about jobs. If the Democrats want to pass something that's going to cost the country—according to CBO, 500,000 jobs—then we win," added Chambliss. Democrats, citing the same Congressional Budget Office report, say that raising the minimum wage would lift 900,000 out of poverty (out of the roughly 45 million projected to be below the poverty threshold in 2016) and increase the incomes of 16.5 million low-wage workers.
The Senate Democrats' agenda will be closely choreographed with the the White House, which abhors the thought of a Republican House and Senate during Obama's last two years in office. Reid will plan votes to coincide with awareness-raising presidential trips, according to the New York Times, which first reported on "Fair Shot," and use the presidential bully pulpit to support the bills. The White House released a new report Wednesday focusing on how raising the minimum wage will benefit women.
“I don’t think we’ll ever overcome the Republican attacks on Obamacare, but I think we can mute it greatly,” Schumer told the Times.
Republicans need a net gain of six seats this November to take the majority, and are in little danger of losing their House majority. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report marks five seats held by Senate Democrats as a "toss-up"—in Arkansas, Alaska, Louisiana, Michigan, and North Carolina—and three seats as "lean" or "likely" Republican—in Montana, West Virginia, and South Dakota. The only two "toss-up" seats for Republicans are held by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the retiring Chambliss.