WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats could not advance their bill to raise the minimum wage on Wednesday, failing by a vote of 54-42 to clear the filibuster threshold.
The vote was an early hurdle for legislation that Democrats have put at the top of their economic agenda for the year. Even if the measure eventually garners the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster in the Senate, it still faces long odds in the GOP-controlled House, where Republicans have shown no interest in bringing it to the floor.
Senate Republicans were expected to block the bill, which would raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour and tie it to inflation so that it rises with the cost of living. Democrats are hoping the issue will play well for them in this midterm election year given the overwhelming support among the general public for hiking the minimum wage.
"They don't even want us to have a proper debate on the bill, let alone pass it," Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) said ahead of the vote. "What is so radical about what we're trying to do?"
Discussion on the measure fell along familiar ideological lines on Wednesday. Democrats pointed out how the wage floor has eroded in recent years, leaving more low-income workers below the poverty line. Republicans argued that a wage hike would hurt the very workers it was meant to benefit.
"It will actually hurt more people than it helps," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said. "It would be great if we lived in a world where Washington dictates what wages can be, and peace, love and happiness will break out, the Age of Aquarius, because Washington has somehow distributed free money."
The federal minimum wage was last raised in 2009, as part of a package of increases that had been signed into law by President George W. Bush. Absent action from Congress, cities and states around the country have opted to raise their own minimum wages well above the federal level. The idea of hiking the minimum wage generally polls very well, with more than 60 percent of Americans tending to back it, including a large share of Republicans.
In addition to tying the wage floor to an inflation index, the Democrats' bill would also raise the so-called tipped minimum wage for restaurant servers to 70 percent of the standard minimum wage. The tipped minimum wage is now $2.13 per hour before tips and hasn't been raised since 1991.
The Senate bill was introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the House bill by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.).