The Senate will delay action on legislation to raise the minimum wage even as House Democrats plan to spotlight their support for a wage increase by trying to force the House Republican majority to bring a measure to a floor vote.
The House move will require 218 lawmakers to sign a discharge petition, likely an impossible task because Democrats control only 199 votes.
But they’ll have plenty of time to collect them because Senate Democratic aides said Tuesday that the upper chamber is unlikely to consider minimum wage increase legislation until late March at the earliest.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid blamed the slowdown on the Republicans, who he said are getting in the way of speedy passage of other measures, including unemployment benefits and the recent battle over confirming President Obama's judicial branch nominees.
“So the slowdown has been a result of continued obstruction, a desire that we do something on unemployment benefit extension and the problem with nominations,” Reid said.
Senate Republicans last year blocked several of President Obama's judicial and executive branch nominees. But Reid in late November changed the Senate rules so that such nominations require only 51 votes for confirmation rather than the traditional 60. Democrats control 55 votes so all recent nominations have breezed through the chamber.
"He alone schedules the floor," Don Stewart, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in response to Reid's explanation.
A vote on raising the minimum wage will be tough for some red-state Senate Democrats.
Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., who is in a tough battle for re-election this year, has said he does not support raising the minimum wage to $10.10.
Some Democrats have suggested raising it to the nine-dollar range, but Reid on Tuesday rejected lowering the $10.10 target.
House Democrats, meanwhile, plan to announce Wednesday they are seeking signatures on a discharge petition, which can be used to make the House take up legislation that the Speaker has not agreed to bring to the floor.
Democrats want to raise the minimum wage nearly 40 percent, to $10.10 per hour, but House Republicans, who control the floor schedule, oppose the measure, saying it will kill jobs.
For House Democrats, Wednesday’s announcement will mostly amount to a political maneuver because it is unlikely they will attract enough GOP support to reach the 218 signatures needed to force a vote via discharge petition.
House lawmakers have been unable to force a vote on legislation through a discharge petition since the tactic was used to pass a campaign finance reform bill in 2002.
Instead, the move will help underscore the “income inequality” theme Democrats are pushing ahead of the critical 2014 elections.
Democrats will announce the discharge petition in the U.S. Capitol, flanked by “business owners and advocates,” according to an announcement. The party is working to portray the GOP as unwilling to consider legislation that would help the working and middle class.