Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked a bill to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour, arguing that the central legislation in the Democrats' “fair shot” agenda would kill jobs and hurt the economy.
The vote was 54-42, falling short of the 60 votes needed to prevent a filibuster. The debate started just hours after the Commerce Department reported the U.S. economy barely grew at all in the first quarter, expanding only 0.1 percent.
The bad economic news gave the GOP a talking point to counter Democratic arguments that raising the minimum wage, which was last increased in 2009, would lift many working families out of poverty.
Republicans also cited a recent Congressional Budget Office report that a minimum wage hike to $10.10 , a nearly 40 percent increase, would result in a half million fewer jobs.
“Raising the minimum wage would administer a body blow to this anemic economic growth,” Republican Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, argued on the Senate floor.
The bill, even if it had passed the Senate, stood no chance of consideration in the Republican-led House.
Instead, Senate Democrats plan to use the vote to contrast their party with the GOP as the critical November election approaches.
Democratic lawmakers sought to make the distinction in the moments leading up to the vote. A minimum wage increase, they argued, is the only way to offer lower wage workers a fair chance at achieving the American dream.
A full-time worker receiving the minimum wage earns about $15,000 per year, far below the $23,850 poverty level for a family of four. The CBO report found that a minimum wage increase to $10.10 would move 900,000 people above the poverty threshold.
“Who is this chamber is going to stand with millions of Americans who work full-time but are left on the brink of poverty, struggling to make ends meet?” asked Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who authored the legislation. “And who is going to vote against them?”
The minimum wage bill is the second measure Democrats offered in their "fair shot" agenda. Earlier this month, Republicans blocked a Democratic bill that aimed to ensure women receive equal pay. The legislation would have expanded federal oversight and regulation of private company wages and would have expanded the ability to sue over pay differences.
The minimum wage vote, however, will be tougher for the GOP to defend on the campaign trail, with polls showing wide public support for it.
“This is about trying to make this side of the aisle look bad and hard-hearted,” Cornyn noted.
Several states and municipalities have already moved to raise the minimum wage, which Republicans say they support because it allow local governments, not the federal government, to make the decision.
Democrats say they plan to showcase their desire for a federal minimum wage hike throughout the election cycle to help bolster their chances of maintaining control of the Senate and to eventually win approval for the measure.
“We will bring this bill to the floor again and again and again,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said.