Updated 12:55 p.m. | GOP senators blocked a Democrat-led effort to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour on Wednesday — although Democrats said they planned to bring the issue up again and some in both parties called for a compromise.
The Senate voted 54-42 to limit debate on taking up the proposal, falling short of the 60 votes needed.
Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee was the only Republican to break ranks and vote in support of cloture. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., changed his vote to no in order to maintain his right to reconsider the vote. The outcome has long been anticipated. It’s the latest in a series of votes that Democrats plan to use to highlight campaign priorities ahead of November.
The failed vote came as President Barack Obama was scheduled to make another push to phase up the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
Immediately after the votes, Maine’s senators — Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King — again called for a compromise on the issue in separate statements.
“I recognize how difficult it is for anyone who is trying to make ends meet on the minimum wage, and I believe it should be increased,” Collin said. “In 2007, the last time the Senate voted on this issue, I supported legislation that raised the federal minimum wage to the current $7.25 an hour. It is clear, however, that the President’s current proposal – which is considerably higher than the $9 minimum wage he proposed just last year — does not have the votes it would need to pass the Senate, much less the House. That’s why I have spent the past several weeks in discussions with colleagues on both sides of the aisle about a possible alternative that could raise the minimum wage by a reasonable amount that would not result in the huge job losses caused by a 39 percent increase to $10.10.”
Collins complained that Reid would not allow a vote on any amendments.
King expressed his disappointment with the Senate vote but said a compromise would be better than nothing.
“This issue is too important to fall victim to partisan, election-year politics,” he said. “I’m going to push forward to find common ground with my colleagues and hope to strike a compromise that will increase the minimum wage. It would be shameful to walk away from this session without any progress.”
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin has led the charge in the Senate in support of the legislation.
“What we are going to vote on [Wednesday] will have a drastic effect on millions of American families — and it is going to have a big effect on our economy, because it will boost our economy and get the wheels going again, because people will have more money to spend,” the Iowa Democrat said Tuesday, previewing the vote on the floor. “They will spend it on Main Street, and that is what is lacking right now — consumer demand — consumers with enough money to spend on Main Street.”
Many Republicans oppose the minimum-wage increase, pointing to statistics indicating it could imperil job creation efforts. That crowd includes Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who on Tuesday floated an energy policy bill in lieu of the minimum-wage hike.
“Every senator who votes ‘yes’ is voting with an absolute certainty that hundreds of thousands of workers, including a great many African-American teenagers and a great many Hispanic teenagers, will be laid off as a consequence of their vote,” Cruz said. “I would challenge any of the senators in this chamber to look in the eyes of those African-American teenagers, those Hispanic teenagers who are looking for a better opportunity.”
Harkin pushed back against Cruz’s line of reasoning Tuesday.
“Again, we hear from the other side that by raising the minimum wage there will be this massive loss of jobs. That is simply not true. It is a myth. But it is brought up every time,” Harkin said. “I have been in Congress now 40 years. We have raised the minimum wage several times during that period of time both under Democratic and Republican presidents. Every time it has come up, we hear that same old song: It is going to cost jobs. Guess what. Every time we raise the minimum wage, there has been no big loss of jobs.”
In a sign the Democrats perhaps never really expected to make much progress on the minimum wage bill, it included language that would extend higher limits on expensing, a tax code change that would seem to require the bill to originate in the House to avoid a constitutional challenge.
Sarah Chacko contributed to this report.