In a fit of election-year messaging, Senate Republicans blocked a bill Wednesday that would gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10. With the midterm elections just six months away, no one wants to make a vote that helps the other party. The only solution: no vote at all.
Republicans didn't vote against the bill (which would raise the wage to $10.10 over 30 months and then index to inflation), exactly, they just didn't vote to bring the bill itself to vote. In a 54-42 vote to end debate on the Minimum Wage Fairness Act, the Senate fell six shy of bringing the actual legislation to a vote. Only one Republican, Sen. Bob Corker from Tennessee, voted to end debate. The Associated Press called the GOP block "a defeat for one of President Barack Obama's top economic priorities."
Though Democrats in the Senate vow to bring the legislation up again in the future (that's the reason Majority Leader Harry Reid voted against, so he could have another chance), the Senate likely won't be voting on a minimum wage raise any time soon. That's because it puts GOP Senators in a position where any vote at all is futile.
There are two factors facing Republicans. First, Obama and the congressional Democrats have made it clear that raising the minimum wage is an integral part of their midterm platform. Second, a minimum wage hike remains largely popular with the general public. In an election year, those are two opposing forces.
For a GOP Senator, a vote against raising the minimum wage would be going against public opinion, but a vote for it would be aiding the opposing party, which again, isn't going to happen with November on the horizon. The only politically feasible approach is simply no vote at all.
Thankfully, there's enough data available to spin the effects of a minimum wage hike any way you'd like, so both parties have plenty of ammunition to keep debating this, without ever bringing the bill to a vote. And in an election year, that's about all we're going to get.
Update: President Obama spoke about the minimum wage bill later on Wednesday, joined on stage by a number of low-wage workers and supporters of a minimum wage increase. "This morning, a majority of Senators said 'yes,' but almost every Republican said 'no," Obama said of the vote in the Senate. All but one Republican voted against advancing the bill through he Senate. "They said no to helping millions work their way out of poverty," he added.
"Because Republicans in Congress said 'no' to even having a vote," Obama said, "these people [who work minimum wage jobs] will have to wait." Obama also praised recent votes in Hawaii, Minnesota, Maryland, and Connecticut to raise the minimum wages there to $10.10, and private companies like the Gap that have pledged to voluntarily raise the minimum wages of their workers.