Congressional votes preview November elections
WASHINGTON (AP) — One after another, congressional Democrats are pushing bills they know can’t become law but could put them in a better light with core voters in the November elections. Republicans have been doing the same thing with more than 50 futile attempts to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Meantime, legislators in both parties have produced virtually no significant legislation.
At stake is control of the Senate. The chamber currently is controlled by Democrats but Republicans are seen as having a good chance of taking over. They already control the House and their majority is not seen as endangered in the coming vote. Should the Senate change hands, Obama’s legislative agenda would be dead in the water for his final two years in the White House.
The most recent skirmish shut down a Democrat attempt to raise the $7.25 hourly minimum to $10.10 over 30 months and then provide automatic annual increases to account for inflation. Obama had proposed the measure, contending it was unfair that low-wage workers could put in 40 hours a week and remain below the poverty level.
In blocking the bill, Republicans relied on a February study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that estimated the increase to $10.10 could eliminate about 500,000 jobs — but also envisioned higher income for 16.5 million low-earning people.
Senate Republican senators killed the measure Wednesday 54-42 — 60 affirmative votes were necessary to break the Republican filibuster that was keeping the bill from coming to the floor for action.
There was no surprise in the Senate vote on the minimum wage, an issue that is just the latest in a series of votes Democrats hope to use to highlight their campaign priorities — what they contend would make life better for the poor and middle class — in advance of the November balloting and to cast Republicans as unwilling to protect financially struggling families. The wage measure was the latest to slam into Republican legislative barriers. Republicans, determined to cut government spending, already have blocked attempts to restore benefits for the long-term unemployed that expired during the last Christmas season and efforts to pressure employers to pay men and women equally. Still to come are Democrat efforts to ease the costs of college education and child care.
Republican opposition to the Democratic measures is based not only on political ideology, which tends to favor the business community, but also on the fears of those in Congress who worry about challenges from hard-right tea party candidates in state primary elections for a place on the November ballot. Those elections tend to draw heavily from the extreme right wing of the party, a fact that often causes more mainstream candidates to adopt hard right positions in primary contests.
After the vote, Obama said it was time for Republicans to “set aside old political arguments.”
The president claimed 75 percent of Americans support for the higher wage. “If there’s any good news here it’s that the Republicans in Congress don’t get the last word on this. You do,” Obama told a gathering at the White House. “You vote. Get fired up and get your voices heard.”
Senate Democrats vowed to bring the minimum wage measure up again and some members of both parties said they were looking toward compromise. Democrats argue that if fully phased in by 2016, the higher minimum wage would push a family of three above the federal poverty line — a level such earners have not surpassed since 1979.
But even had the measure made it to the floor for Senate passage by the Democrat majority, it was certain, as currently written, to face overwhelming opposition and shelving in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
More than 6 in 10 of those making $7.25 or under were women, and about half were under age 25. Democrats hope their support for a minimum wage boost will draw voters from both groups — who usually lean Democratic — to the polls in November, when Senate control will be at stake. Republican control of the House is not in doubt.
The minimum wage was first enacted in 1938 and set at 25 cents.
Congress has passed nine laws slowly increasing it, including one each decade since the 1980s. The minimum has been $7.25 since 2009.
Republicans are still struggling with what to do about a huge issue — immigration reform. House Speaker John Boehner in a recent speech mocked members of his Republican caucus for being too timid on the issue. Democrats and Obama want U.S. law overhauled to make it easier for immigrants and their children brought to the U.S. to gain legal status and to have the means for gaining citizenship.
The big Hispanic community in the United States tends to overwhelmingly vote for Democrats. Mainstream Republicans figure they could benefit in elections by joining in the effort to change immigration laws, but those in the far right of the party — the people who overwhelmingly vote in primary elections — are dead set against easing the process. As with many issues that is holding back Republicans facing re-election in November.