Policy: Economy

Democrats' push for minimum wage hike stalls in Senate

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Senate,Labor,Democratic Party,Harry Reid,2014 Elections,PennAve,Economy,Minimum Wage,Magazine

Democrats have been trumpeting their support for a hefty minimum wage increase in the run-up to November's midterm elections.

So why haven’t they taken up legislation in Congress?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., left a private meeting with his Democratic caucus dead-set on holding an immediate vote to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016, a nearly 40 percent hike. He told reporters, “I'm going to try to do it this month.”

That was on Nov. 7.

Four months later, Reid has yet to call a vote on legislation to raise the minimum wage, even though his party commands a five-seat voting majority in the Senate and President Obama is promoting it as a top priority.

“If Harry Reid thought he would have the votes, he would have pulled the trigger,” David French, a lobbyist for the National Retail Federation, which opposes the bill, told the Washington Examiner. “We’re entering the fifth month of anticipated action on the minimum wage. His efforts to build support for the bill have obviously not been successful.”

Reid has postponed votes repeatedly, despite frequent floor speeches extolling the benefits of raising the minimum wage. He has also used the argument as a weapon to attack Republicans who oppose an increase. Polls show the vast majority of voters support a hike.

“When it comes time to consider Democrats' minimum wage proposal,” Reid warned in February, “Republicans will again have to choose between standing up for middle-class families and resorting to more partisan obstruction.”

For most Senate bills, 60 votes are needed just to bring legislation to the floor for debate.

But Reid is having trouble winning over all 55 members of his own caucus, which he will need to do if he stands a chance of collecting a minimum of five Republicans willing to vote for a minimum wage increase.

Reid aides now say the bill could next come up in late March or April at the earliest.

That delay comes after a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would cost the nation a half a million jobs, bolstering Republicans who oppose a wage hike.

The GOP-controlled House has no plans to take up legislation on the issue, which makes the bill even less attractive to vulnerable Democrats in the Senate who would be taking a politically risky vote just to send a message.

If Reid does take up the bill, it could cost some of the most vulnerable Democratic lawmakers their seats.

Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas is trailing GOP opponent Rep. Tom Cotton by single digits in the polls and both men have declared their opposition to a federal minimum wage increase.

Pryor backs a move in his state to raise the minimum wage to $8.50 by 2017, but said the federal proposal raises wages too high and too quickly.

Another vulnerable Democrat, Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, is also hedging. Landrieu is in talks with some moderate Republicans on a plan to raise the minimum wage to a figure below the $10.10 Obama has asked for.

Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. and Mark Warner, D-Va., are also interested in a compromise bill that includes a more modest increase.

Warner, who is up for re-election this year, has seen his lead over Republican Ed Gillespie shrink to six points in a recent poll.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., is also considering legislation that would propose a lower minimum wage increase, perhaps to the $9 level Obama backed last year.

The CBO report found that an increase to $9 would kill far fewer jobs than the $10.10 hike.

But Reid has said he won’t support a wage increase lower than $10.10 per hour, Obama’s new benchmark.

As they head into the fall elections, Democrats continue calling for a minimum wage increase, arguing that it would reduce income inequality.

House Democrats have staged press conferences calling for a vote on the bill in the lower chamber, and Obama is holding rallies touting the plan.

“Congress has to get on board,” Obama said at an event in Connecticut. “This should not be that hard.”

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