WASHINGTON — Debate over a proposed boost in the minimum wage was dripping with election-year campaign talk Wednesday as the legislation failed to advance in the Senate.
The bill, authored by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, would raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour over 30 months and automatically increase it every year after that to keep pace with inflation.
“There’s no question that working families need a raise,” Harkin said on the Senate floor before the vote.
But the proposal ran into a filibuster by Senate Republicans, who said Democrats refused to allow them any amendments and pointed to reports that it could eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs.
The vote was 54-42, six short of the 60 needed to overcome the filibuster.
Only one Republican, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, crossed the aisle to support advancing the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., voted against the bill in a procedural move that allows him to bring it up again.
Senators from Nebraska and Iowa split along party lines, with Republicans Mike Johanns and Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Chuck Grassley of Iowa voting to block the bill.
Harkin voted to advance his legislation, which he said would help the economy and the taxpayers, as well as those working hard in exchange for wages that now put them below poverty level.
He told of Alicia McCrary of Northwood, Iowa, who testified before Congress on the need for an increase in the minimum wage. And he nodded to arguments by Republicans that approving the Keystone XL pipeline would provide jobs that pay well above the minimum wage.
“I’ve heard a lot of talk about the Keystone pipeline and the high-paying jobs it would create. I don’t doubt that it probably would,” Harkin said. “But unless Alicia is ready to pick up and move her four kids to Texas and become a petroleum engineer, it’s not going to help her one bit.”
Johanns told a group of Nebraskans visiting the Capitol on Wednesday that the proposal might sound like a great idea but pointed to an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that the legislation could eliminate jobs.
Johanns said small businesses back home tell him that they can’t bear any increase in costs because their profit margins already are so thin and that mandating higher pay would force them to lay off workers.
He said some Republicans might have supported a smaller increase, but Democrats would not allow any amendments to the legislation.
Johanns said it was obvious that Democrats were less interested in getting something passed than in baiting Republicans to oppose it — and then painting them as hard-hearted villains.
He suggested that Democrats think that will help them get a leg up in the November midterm elections and keep control of the Senate.
“This is political messaging,” Johanns said.
Harkin and other leading Senate Democrats have indicated that they will not compromise on the proposed increase in the minimum wage. They said that’s because setting a wage below $10.10 an hour would mean that someone working 40 hours a week would remain mired in poverty — an outcome they described as unacceptable.
But Harkin and fellow Democrats were clearly thinking about the midterms at their post-vote press conference.
“I’m confident that if we don’t raise the minimum wage in Congress before the election, the American people are going to speak about this at the ballot box,” Harkin said.