WASHINGTON — A top election-year proposal from Democrats — a bid to raise the federal minimum wage — was rejected by Republicans in the Senate, who blocked legislation Wednesday to boost the rate to $10.10 an hour.
President Obama has turned the plight of the nation's low-wage workers into a battle cry for Democrats as they try to appeal to voters while the economy continues its slow recovery. Several states have advanced their own wage hikes amid congressional inaction.
Already in campaign mode, Obama revived one of his favorite stump lines: "Get fired up," he said, as he told supporters to pressure Republicans on the issue.
"This is a very simple issue. Either you're in favor of raising wages for hardworking Americans or you're not," Obama said. "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. You do, the American people, the voters."
But the effort made little headway with Republicans, who argued that the rate hike would cost jobs. The measure was blocked by a GOP filibuster mostly on a party-line vote of 54 to 42.
Republican Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming said the minimum wage jobs he held as a young man — as a window washer and a stock boy — prepared him for eventually owning his own business.
"These are jobs where we learn to be dependable, to work with other employees and to learn that work ethic," Enzi said. Today's workers, he said, often "don't know how to interrupt their texting to wait on a customer."
The proposal would have boosted the minimum wage, now $7.25 an hour, to $8.20 initially, then again in 95-cent increments over two years to $10.10.
A Congressional Budget Office report said a higher rate could reduce employment by about 500,000 workers but noted that "many more" would see an increase in earnings. Studies show about 28 million Americans — low-wage workers and their families — would benefit from the increase.
The White House initially considered a more modest increase to about $9 an hour, but Democrats in Congress pushed for the higher rate. The proposed increase would be the first since President George W. Bush increased the $5.15 hourly rate after Democrats became the majority in Congress in 2007.
The issue had threatened to divide Democrats in an election year when several conservative-state senators are up for reelection.
But Tuesday, all Democrats voted to advance the measure, except Sen. Mark Pryor, who was in his home state of Arkansas after the week's devastating storms.
One Republican, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, joined Democrats to advance the issue.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) voted against the bill as a procedural move, enabling him to bring the legislation back for another vote, which Democrats have vowed to do to continue pounding the issue before the November election.