WASHINGTON — The push by President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats to raise the federal minimum wage seems ready to join the parade of issues that gets buried in Congress but — the party hopes — propels voters to the polls this November.
Immigration. Renewing expired jobless benefits. Tighter curbs on guns. All of them Obama priorities. All of them attracting some Republican support. And all of them tripped up, at least for now, by GOP opposition.
And now, a bill by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, boosting today’s $7.25 hourly minimum in three steps until it hits $10.10 as soon as 2016. His minimum wage bill is widely expected to join that list Wednesday, when the Senate seems poised to vote on it. Though it should win backing from nearly all of the 53 Democrats and two Democratic-leaning independents, few if any Republicans are expected to join them, leaving them shy of the needed 60 votes.
Democrats are aware of its likely fate. But they also know that according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, women and young people make up disproportionate portions of the 3.3 million people who earned $7.25 or less last year. Both groups traditionally tilt toward Democrats, who would love to lure them to the polls this fall as they fight to retain Senate control.
“It’s a powerful motivator for voters in the Democratic base who are a focal point of Democratic efforts to turn out voters in the midterm elections,” Democratic pollster Geoffrey Garin said of the minimum wage push.
Senate Republicans have scant political incentive to support the measure.
The GOP’s business allies oppose the increase, saying it drive up employers’ costs. Republican lawmakers have buttressed that argument with a February study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which estimated the $10.10 increase would eliminate around 500,000 jobs — though it also concluded that earnings would rise for at least 16.5 million low-paid workers.