By Mike Lillis - 02/13/14 05:33 PM EST
CAMBRIDGE, MD – House Democrats are launching an effort to force Republicans' hand on the minimum wage.
The Democrats will introduce a discharge petition later this month designed to force a floor vote on a proposal to hike the minimum wage, even in the face of entrenched opposition from GOP leaders.
"I don't think we're ever confident that we're going to get 18 Republicans to sign a discharge petition," House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) conceded during the Democrats' annual issues retreat on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
Still, the Democrats are hoping the extra political pressure will amplify the Democrats' economic message this election year, while highlighting the stark differences between the parties when it comes to strategy for helping the working class amid an ongoing jobs crisis.
"It's not only the right thing to do, it's about time to do it," Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), head of the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters.
Public opinion polls show overwhelming support for a minimum wage hike; even if the discharge petition fails, it puts Republicans in the tough position of rejecting a popular economic policy in a still-fragile jobs market.
The minimum wage hike is just one in a long list of policy priorities President Obama and congressional Democrats are pushing this year in hopes of drawing a sharp distinction between the parties' economic agendas. Another of those proposals is comprehensive immigration reform; Democratic leaders did not rule out the possibility that they would eventually push a discharge petition for that bill, as well.
"We do see immigration as an economic issue, reducing the deficit [and] growing the economy," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters. "But right now, we're starting with the minimum wage."
The lawmakers are urging a vote on legislation, sponsored by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour over the next several years – up from the current level of $7.25 per hour.
Hoyer said he hasn't yet surveyed the Democrats to learn exactly how many would endorse the discharge petition, but he predicted it will be "close to everybody."
This story was updated at 6:32 p.m.