WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republicans blocked an election-year Democratic bill today that would boost the federal minimum wage, handing a defeat to President Barack Obama on a vote that is sure to reverberate in this year's congressional elections.
The measure's rejection, which was expected, came in the early months of a campaign season in which the slowly recovering economy — and its impact on families — is a marquee issue. It was also the latest setback for a stream of bills this year that Democrats have designed to cast themselves as the party of economic fairness.
The legislation by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, would have gradually raised the $7.25 hourly minimum to $10.10 over 30 months and then would have provided automatic annual increases to account for inflation. Democrats argue that if fully phased in by 2016, it would have pushed a family of three above the federal poverty line — a level such earners have not surpassed since 1979.
"Millions of American workers will be watching how each senator votes today. To them, it's a matter of survival," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said before the vote.
He pointedly added, "For Republicans, this vote will demonstrate whether they truly care about our economy."
Republicans, solidly against the Democratic proposal, say it would have been too expensive for employers and would have cost jobs.