The U.S. Senate took a mostly symbolic vote on Wednesday to move forward on a measure to raise the federal minimum wage, a plan Democrats hope to use against Republicans in the upcoming 2014 Midterms. In a vote of 54-42, the Democrats failed to meet the 60-vote threshold required to overcome a Republican filibuster. Senator Mark Pryor, the 55th Democratic senator who has expressed opposition to the legislation, did not vote, which is essentially a vote to sustain the filibuster. Pryor is involved in a difficult reelection bid in Arkansas, but has expressed support for a ballot initiative in Arkansas that would raise the state minimum wage there to $8.50.
A proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10, an underpinning of President Obama’s economic agenda and an issue that Democrats hope to leverage against Republicans in the midterm elections, failed in the Senate on Wednesday.
The vote was 54 to 42, with 60 votes needed to advance the measure.
All but one Republican voted to sustain a filibuster against the measure, saying that the increase would damage the fragile economy and force businesses to cut hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Democrats were mostly united behind the bill.
Mr. Obama, in brief remarks at the White House after the vote, admonished Republicans and called on voters to use the midterm elections to punish those who voted to block it. “If there’s any good news here, it’s that Republicans in Congress don’t get the last word on this issue, or any issue,” Mr. Obama said. “You do, the American people, the voters.”
“If your member of Congress doesn’t support raising the minimum wage,” he added, “you have to let them know they’re out of step, and that if they keep putting politics ahead of working Americans, you’ll put them out of office.”
Senators of both parties took to the floor on Wednesday morning to debate the real-world implications of raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25, a rate that has been unchanged since 2009.
Senator Mike Enzi, Republican of Wyoming, said the 40 percent increase to $10.10 was too large a cost for businesses to bear. “The proposal before the Senate throws cold water on job creation and it adds to the burdens businesses are already facing,” he said. “Instead the Senate should be considering proposals which promote job growth.”
Senator Michael Bennet, Democrat of Colorado, faulted Republicans for not allowing the bill to move forward. “Right now, if you work 40 hours a week in America, in the greatest country in the world, at a federal minimum wage, you make barely over $15,000 a year,” he said. “Think about how crazy that is.”
Politics were as much a part of the debate as the larger questions of economic impact and the vitality of the middle class. Polls show the public supports an increase. A recent New York Times/CBS News poll found that two-thirds of the public favors a rise to $10.10.
“I’m confident that if we don’t raise the minimum wage in Congress before the election, the American people are going to speak about this at the ballot box in November,” said Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa. “They’ll hold their elected officials responsible and accountable.”
Democrats are staking their hopes of retaining a majority in the Senate on issues like the minimum wage, which they hope will allow them to appeal to voters despite the unpopularity of the president in many states and the bungled rollout of the Affordable Care Act.