WASHINGTON (April 30, 2014 – CNN) — Senate Republicans are expected Wednesday to block a top legislative and political priority of Democrats, a bill to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
Nearly all Republicans, citing various concerns, plan to vote against starting debate on the measure.
They will do so despite efforts by Democrats in a midterm election year to portray the GOP as insensitive to the needs of low-wage workers.
“This is an emotional issue,” acknowledged Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina who is up for re-election. But “from an economic point of view, if you want to increase the minimum wage you’re going to displace probably a million people from the economy at a time when we should be hiring people.”
Sen. Rob Portman also weighed in.
“I’m not in favor of the proposal of $10.10. I think it’s too high, too fast. I think it will result in job loss,” said the Ohio Republican who favors a smaller increase like the one adopted in his state.
“We’ll see how this plays out,” he said. “My sense is that this is a political vote.”
Sen. Kelly Ayotte also said the wage hike would lead to a reduction in jobs in her state at a time when the economy is vulnerable.
“My first job was as a bus girl at a restaurant in New Hampshire making minimum wage,” the Granite State Republican said.
Supporters need 60 votes to open debate in the Democratic-led chamber.
Democrats, who hope the issue will drive their supporters to the polls this fall and help them hold onto the majority in the Senate, argue it is wrong that people who work 40 hours a week making the current $7.25 minimum wage still live in poverty.
“Simply put, it is not fair that working Americans and their families are being stripped of the American dream, because we refuse to pay them livable wages. That is why this legislation before us is so critical,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
“When workers do better, families do better,” said Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat. “When parents buy their kids enough to eat and shoes to wear, when they can get a haircut at the local barber, put gas in their car and fix up the house a little, everybody does better. The community does better, businesses do better. Families can walk tall when we reward work.”
Raising the minimum wage, the White House and other advocates argue, would have many positive effects, including increased productivity and lower turnover.
President Barack Obama in February signed an executive order raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour for federal contractors beginning in 2015, and he is pushing Congress to do the same for all workers.
Among the types of workers who would benefit from the President’s order are concession workers in national parks, nursing assistants caring for veterans, people who serve food to U.S. troops and those who maintain the grounds on military bases, the White House said.
Not all Democratic senators support the proposal before them on Wednesday. For instance, Sen. Mark Pryor, who is facing a challenging re-election in conservative Arkansas, supports a smaller increase that is under consideration in his state.
Pryor is not expected at the vote, however, because he is at home dealing with the aftermath of recent tornado damage.
Other Democrats have raised concerns about the proposal but are expected to vote to begin debate.
Republicans argued the liberal agenda Reid is pushing could backfire and hurt centrist Democrats this fall.
“For the Democrats here in the Senate, particularly the vulnerable ones who are in tough competitive races, they’ve got to be particularly sensitive to the agenda the Democrats are driving,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, a GOP leader. “I think there are a lot of Democrats, on minimum wage even, that are concerned about its impact on the economy.
Despite those concerns, Reid and other Democrats vowed to return to the issue again and again this year if Republicans block it.
Raising the national minimum wage appears to be popular with many voters.
According to a Quinnipiac University poll released earlier this month, half of registered voters surveyed nationwide said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports raising the minimum wage. A quarter of respondents said they’d be less likely to vote for that candidate.