Senate Republicans blocked an election-year Democratic bill on Wednesday that would boost the federal minimum wage, handing a defeat to President Barack Obama on a vote that is sure to reverberate in this year's congressional elections.
The measure's rejection, which was expected, came in the early months of a campaign season in which the slowly recovering economy — and its impact on families — is a marquee issue. It was also the latest setback for a stream of bills this year that Democrats have designed to cast themselves as the party of economic fairness.
The legislation by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, would have gradually raised the $7.25 hourly minimum to $10.10 over 30 months and then would have provided automatic annual increases to account for inflation. Democrats argue that if fully phased in by 2016, it would have pushed a family of three above the federal poverty line — a level such earners have not surpassed since 1979.
"Millions of American workers will be watching how each senator votes today. To them, it's a matter of survival," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said before the vote.