A majority of the U.S. Senate indicated their support Thursday for increasing the minimum wage, but the margin of approval was not enough to force Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole to hold a vote on the politically charged issue.
Eight Republicans joined all 47 Senate Democrats in backing a procedural move that would have required Dole to schedule a vote on raising the minimum wage from $4.25 to $5.15 per hour in two increments over the next two years. The tally was five short of the number needed to override Dole.
Senate Democrats, who have earmarked a minimum wage hike as a key issue in their campaign to retake control of Congress and retain the presidency, vowed to continue forcing votes on the issue until they prevail.
“We’re very pleased with the vote,” Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., the Senate minority leader, told reporters. “Sooner or later this will pass. … We hope it happens sometime in the next few weeks.”
Dole, R-Kan., has given no indication that he would schedule a vote on the measure, so the only choice for Democrats is to tack it on to other legislation. Their next target will be an immigration reform measure scheduled for debate after their spring break.
Meanwhile, Democrats in the House were thwarted in their attempt to bring the minimum wage up for a vote in that chamber. The 228-192 vote indicated that opposition to the minimum wage raise likely is insurmountable in the House.
Nevertheless, the simultaneous action in both chambers reflected Democrats’ determination to use the issue to differentiate their agenda from the Republicans’ and to curry support among working-class voters. Many middle-class voters have switched over to support conservative Republican candidates in recent elections, and Democrats are basing their hopes for retaking Congress on winning back their allegiance.
“Our Republican colleagues cannot have it both ways,” Daschle said during the brief floor debate before the vote. “They express newfound concern for workers in a campaign, but then manufacture reasons to oppose them when it is real.”
The votes also showed the extent to which Congress has become the central playing field for the 1996 elections.
Recent polls show that more than three-quarters of Americans support an increase in the minimum wage. But critics, including businesses that are strong backers of the Republican Party, charge that it will prompt employers to cut back on jobs.
Holding a vote on the issue was such an uncomfortable prospect for Dole, his party’s presidential nominee, that he brought the Senate to a halt for three hours Tuesday while he tried to figure out a procedural way to avoid one.
Dole was silent on the issue Thursday, but Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., quoted from previous Dole speeches over the years supporting the concept of boosting the minimum wage to keep up with inflation:
“Since the justification for the minimum wage is to ensure every working person a livable wage, periodic adjustments may be necessary,” Dole said in a Senate floor speech in 1977, according to quotation Kennedy cited Thursday.