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In Plain Sight

Minimum Wage Boost Blocked in Senate

Image: Activists Hold Protest In Favor Of Raising Minimum Wage

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 29: Fast Food worker Daniella Longchamps (R) of Baltimore, Maryland, demonstrates along with other activists during a protest outside the National Restaurant Association's 28th Public Affairs Conference at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center April 29, 2014 in Washington, DC. The activists held a protest to urge for a raise the minimum wage. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) Alex Wong / Getty Images

A Democratic bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 was met with overwhelming Republican opposition in the Senate today, where it failed to garner the 60 votes needed to move past a key procedural hurdle.

The bill, which was introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), would have raised the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour over the next 30 months, after which automatic annual increases in the minimum wage would be executed to account for inflation. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee was the only Republican who voted in favor of letting a debate on the measure proceed; it failed by a margin of 54-42.

Following the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said of Republicans who oppose the wage hike, "They're fighting for the billionaires, we're fighting for people who are struggling to make a living."

Later at the White House, standing in front of a group of low-wage workers and minimum-wage hike supporters, President Barack Obama registered his disappointment with the vote, saying, "It's a very simple issue. Either you're in favor of raising wages for hard-working Americans or you're not."

Republicans have said the measure would kill jobs.

The federal minimum wage has been increased 22 times since it was first implemented in 1938, most recently in 2007 when it was raised from $5.15 per hour to the current $7.25 per hour by Democrats who had just gained control of both chambers of Congress. The annual pay for a full-time minimum wage worker currently sits at $14,500, which is below the poverty line for a household of more than one person.

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Public sentiment is on the side of an increase, with 63 percent of Americans saying they would support a minimum wage hike to $10.10 per hour in a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll; but the issue is steeped in politics, with Democrats and President Barack Obama arguing that it will help tens of millions of low income workers climb out of poverty, and Republicans saying that it will only hurt workers by destroying the jobs they need.

Both sides have studies to back up their claims.

According to an analysis of Harkin’s bill by the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute, the bill would “directly or indirectly raise the wages of 27.8 million workers,” resulting in about $35 billion in additional wages in the next 30 months. EPI also says the bill would create “roughly 85,000 net new jobs” over that same period of time.

The EPI analysis argues that higher wages for lower-income workers will equal more spending, which will subsequently result in higher demand that would boost the economy and could result in the need to hire more workers.

“Senate Republicans assert that increasing the minimum wage will not help working families, that assertion is not only wrong, Mr. President, it makes no sense, it's illogical,” Reid said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “Twenty-eight million Americans stand to benefit from an increase in the minimum wage.”

But Republicans point to a report released by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in February which says that a federal minimum wage hike to $10.10 per hour could reduce total employment in the United States by as many as one million jobs by the end of 2016, while at the same time resulting in more than 16.5 million people seeing a pay bump of a total estimated $31 billion.

The CBO says that a possible reduction in employment would be due to a number of factors, such as employers passing off the increased costs of workers to consumers, who would then spend less as a result. If a business is producing fewer foods and services because of lower spending by consumers they could hire fewer workers, the CBO says.

Even if the bill had made it through the Democrat-controlled Senate, its fate in the Republican-led House was grim, where House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has been opposed to such measures for decades. Boehner, who in 1996 told The Weekly Standard “I’ll commit suicide before I vote on a clean minimum-wage bill,” reiterated his opposition to the bill again Wednesday through a spokesman.

“The American people are asking, where are the jobs?” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in a statement. “But Washington Democrats are pushing policies that would make matters worse, like a minimum wage hike that the CBO says could cost up to a million jobs.”

But Democrats both in the House and Senate see their support for the minimum wage hike, and Republicans’ opposition, as a winning position going into the mid-term elections in November. House Democrats filed a ‘discharge petition’ in February in an attempt to force a vote on a measure to raise the minimum wage to $10.10, but it has only received 195 of the needed 218 signatures, all of which are Democrats.

“House Republicans will have to explain to voters why they oppose raising the minimum wage but will go to the mat for a minimum subsidy for oil companies,” DCCC Chairman Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) said in a statement. “This election will be about who’s got the back of the middle class, and there are few contrasts more striking than Republicans’ opposition to raising the minimum wage but support for corporate tax breaks.”

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, says the fact that Republicans oppose the measure is more of an issue of “trust,” saying it’s another example of a do-nothing Congress not acting on an issue Americans care about.

“I think it will make people ask the question, why elect folks if you’re not going to do anything?” Becerra told NBC News. “I think what it does is erodes trust and confidence among the American people for their elected leaders, and I think Republicans in the House do nothing at their peril.”

In a statement Wednesday, Harkin said, "Today’s vote was only a first step. I plan to bring this issue up again and again until American workers get the raise they deserve. This is the start of our fight on minimum wage, not the end.”