Senate Republicans blocked legislation to raise the federal minimum on Wednesday, an expected outcome that Democrats plan to use as political ammunition in the midterm elections this year.
The measure, which would gradually hike the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, received 54 votes, six shy of what was needed to advance the bill to a final vote. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid voted no as a procedural move allowing him to bring it up for a vote again later.
"Millions of American workers will be watching how United States senators vote today," Reid said a statement before the vote. "They'll be observing to see if we ensure all full-time workers in this country receive livable wages.
"To them, it's a matter of survival," Reid added.
Democrats have been hammering Republican for months over their refusal to support a minimum wage hike, and it's been a top priority for President Barack Obama. Republicans say a hike will hurt businesses and cost jobs, and that the focus should be on legislation to create jobs. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's office tweeted that Democrats should "drop the tired ideological approach that's failed so miserably the last five and a half years."
The White House and Senate Democrats are working together on the so-called Raise the Wage strategy, with closely coordinated schedules and social media activities. The President is expected to deliver remarks on the topic Wednesday afternoon, and included a call to raise the minimum wage during his State of the Union address earlier this year.
There is widespread public support for raising the minimum wage to $10.10: A Pew poll released in January showed that 71% of independents supported the measure, as well as 53% of Republicans and 90% of Democrats. An early March Washington Post/ABC poll suggested the issue could help Democrats get voters to the polls in a midterm election year that has the party worried about sluggish turnout. Half of all Americans are more likely to back a candidate who supports raising the minimum wage, according to that poll, with only 19 percent saying they would be less likely to vote for such a candidate.
But polling experts haven’t seen much of a connection between the Raise the Wage effort and Democrats' political prospects. On Monday, the Post reported a new poll with Obama’s approval rating at 41%, the lowest of his presidency, and congressional numbers indicating that 2014 could be on par with the 2010 Republican landslide. A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll on Wednesday was slightly better for Obama, showing a 44-41 percent approval-disapproval rate.
“Look at Obama's numbers, the GOP and Democratic numbers...” said Stuart Rothenberg of the eponymous political report. “None of those suggest considerable movement toward Democrats, do they? Of course not.”
Asked if she had seen the Democrats' push to raise the minimum wage affect the polls in any Senate race this year, Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor at the Cook Political Report, said she had not. “If it is effective, I don’t think we will see it until the fall,” Duffy said. Pointing to a new anti-minimum wage hike ad campaign that focuses on the Capitol Hill newspapers and D.C. television market, Duffy said: “There is a reason this ad is only airing in DC.”
“Voters just aren’t paying attention yet,” she added.