By Tim Devaney - 03/31/14 04:18 PM EDT
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said Monday that voting to raise the minimum wage is a matter of political "survival" for Republicans.
Harkin, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said he expects a close vote this week on his proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.10.
"This could be a voting factor [for Republicans], because this is money in people's pockets," Harkin said. "This has to do with their livelihoods, their families. You're either voting to give them a raise, or you're voting to keep them where they are."
"I think many Republicans ... would find there might be some reason to pass this minimum wage increase ... for their own survival called the election," he added.
The Fair Minimum Wage Act was introduced in March 2013 by Harkin in the Senate and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) in the House. The Obama administration threw its support behind the bill in November.
Harkin said his bill would raise the incomes of 30 million workers by increasing the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour by nearly 40 percent. He called the increase "long overdue."
Despite increases over the years, Harkin said the minimum wage has lost more than 30 percent of its buying power since 1968. If it had kept pace with inflation, it would be about $10.56 an hour in current dollars.
"If we don't get 60 votes on the first vote, we'll continue to come back again and again," Harkin said. "We're not just going to walk away. It's too important for that."
Many Republicans say raising the minimum wage will hurt the economy, and point to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study that found the increase could cost the nation up to 500,000 jobs.
Democrats argue raising the minimum wage would put more money in the hands of consumers, who would in turn put their money back into the economy.
Harkin pointed to a recent poll from the Small Business Majority that shows nearly 60 percent of small business owners support raising the minimum wage as a way to stimulate spending.
"Their most fundamental business challenge right now is not business costs — it's not having enough customers to buy their products," Harkin said.
Harkin pointed to another study from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) that found raising the minimum wage to $10.10 will put an additional $35 billion in consumers' pockets over the next three years. This, in turn, would increase the nation's GDP by $22 billion and create 85,000 full-time jobs, he said.
"Americans support my bill because they know it will help — not hurt — our economy," Harkin said.