Dems: Wage push just beginning

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Senate Democrats vowed to repeatedly bring minimum-wage legislation to the floor, after Republicans on Wednesday blocked a measure to raise the wage to $10.10.

In a 54-42 tally, Democrats fell well short of the 60 votes necessary to end debate. Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) was the only Republican senator to vote with Democrats.

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The failure was expected, however, and the White House and Senate Democrats made it clear they want to begin a public drum beat on the issue ahead of the November elections. 

“This is not the only time you will see the Senate vote on the minimum-wage bill this year. We’ll be back again and again, and we’ll keep trying until we get this to the president’s desk,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the bill’s sponsor.

Over time, the party hopes Republicans will break down and back the wage hike, given polls showing its popularity. And if the GOP opposition holds, Democrats believe it could win them votes in November.

Hours after the vote, President Obama scolded Republicans for blocking the measure.

Obama accused the Republican lawmakers of “telling Americans that you're on your own” without “even looking them in the eye.”

“This is a very simple issue,” Obama said. “Either you’re in favor of raising wages for hardworking Americans, or you're not.”

The president blasted congressional Republicans for voting more than 50 times to undermine or repeal ObamaCare but refusing to allow votes on the minimum wage and unemployment insurance.

According to CBS Radio's Mark Knoller, it was the 37th time the president has rallied for the minimum wage bill since his State of the Union address.

Democratic leaders see a potential parallel to 1996, when they pushed a minimum wage hike before then-President Clinton’s reelection.

Republican congressional leaders initially resisted the wage hike but ultimately passed it through the GOP-controlled Senate and House, after what then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) acknowledged was a political beating from Democrats.

This year, however, there have been no indications from House Republican leaders that they would consider the wage hike.

It took until Wednesday to schedule a vote on raising the minimum wage, in part because some Democrats disagreed over what the size of the hike should be.

Democrats were able to unify over the $10.10 hike, with every Democrat present backing the measure.

Only Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) voted against the hike, and that was to preserve his ability to bring it up again in future. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), an opponent of increasing the wage to $10.10, missed the vote due to a tornado in his home state.

Harkin’s bill would raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour over two years. It would also increase over six years the tipped minimum wage from $2.13 an hour to 70 percent of the minimum wage. Further wage increases would be indexed to inflation.

Republicans argued that Harkin’s bill would harm job growth, and cited a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report that said the bill would cost the economy nearly 1 million jobs.

“Voting for an increase for the minimum wage is saying your jobs don’t matter to me because they will get taken away,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said ahead of the vote. “This bill, if it were to pass, would hammer those at the bottom of the economic ladder and cost them their jobs.”

Corker, the lone Republican to vote in favor of ending debate on the bill, said in a statement that Harkin's plan was “problematic,” but he believed it should be debated.

“While I think the underlying policy is problematic, I think we should always debate ways to help improve the standard of living of Americans,” he said.

Democratic strategists have proposed state ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage in battleground states, such as Arkansas and Alaska, to coordinate their messaging push around the country. Republicans pursued a similar strategy in 2004, when they organized state ballot initiatives to ban gay marriage around the country.

“In several red states, Democrats put this on the ballot to help bring out the vote,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the Senate Democrats’ chief political strategist.

It had appeared, at one point, that a bipartisan deal on the minimum wage might be in the works.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) floated an alternative idea that would increase the minimum wage to $9 an hour, greatly reducing the negative impact on jobs, according to the CBO.

But Democrats insisted that the wage be hiked to $10.10 because it would lift more full-time workers out of poverty. 

Reid told reporters after the vote that he would not negotiate with centrist Republicans, such as Collins, who would prefer to raise the minimum wage to a level below $10.10 an hour.

“We are not going to compromise on locking people into poverty. Ten dollars and ten cents an hour is the bare minimum,” he said.

—Justin Sink contributed to this story.