WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) -- A Democratic bill to raise the federal minimum wage failed in a key procedural vote in the Senate Wednesday. The defeat was expected, but that did not deter Senate Democrats who have pledged to make it an issue in the 2014 elections.
"I can assure you, we won't give up," said Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, a chief sponsor of the bill.
Democrats needed 60 votes to move forward with legislation that would gradually raise in three phases the hourly federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10. Democrats fell five votes short of the 60 votes necessary to move forward.
Republicans oppose the wage hike because they counter it could slow hiring at a time of sluggish job growth, and they contend Democrats are only using the wage bill to seek a political advantage in this year's midterm elections.
Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said in a statement after the vote, "Today, a minority of U.S. senators blocked a minimum wage increase that a strong majority of the American people supports. In so doing, they have rejected a long bipartisan tradition of rewarding hard work with a fair wage. . . .Raising the federal minimum wage is the right thing to do for our workers and the smart thing to do for our economy."
The minimum wage increase is part of an economic agenda that Senate Democrats are promoting this year that they say will help boost the middle class. A bill to address pay equity between men and women likewise failed on a procedural vote, and upcoming legislation to promote college affordability and cut tax breaks for wealthy Americans is likely to meet the same fate.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., himself facing a tough reelection race this year, dismissed the Democrats' agenda as one "drafted by campaign staffers" to appeal to the party's base.
The minimum wage bill also faces opposition from House Republicans, who do not intend to bring it to the floor for a vote this year. House Democrats have filed a discharge petition on the bill, which would force a House vote if a majority of the chamber signs the petition.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the second-ranking House Democrat, said 195 Democrats have signed the petition and that they need 23 Republicans to sign on to succeed. So far, no Republican has signed the petition.
"We are going to continue to urge passage of the minimum wage because we think it is critically important," Hoyer said.