House Democrats will make an aggressive push Wednesday on one of the party's top 2014 priorities, seeking to force a vote to increase the federal minimum wage, even as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has decided to slow-walk the issue.
House members said they'll kick off an official petition drive, which if it secures enough signatures would force a floor vote on raising the minimum wage, even over objections of the GOP, which controls the chamber.
But in the Senate, where Democrats are in control, leaders are wary of forcing their embattled incumbents to have to face a tough vote.
Sen. Mark Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat in a tough re-election fight, has said a hike in the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 —as envisioned in the Democratic measure — is "too much, too fast," though he has endorsed a more modest increase back in his home state. And Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, also up for re-election in the fall, told reporters Tuesday she supports some sort of wage hike but didn't commit to the $10.10 President Obama advocated last month in his State of the Union Address.
Mr. Reid blamed Republicans for his cautious approach, saying the GOP minority is forcing too much debate on too many issues.
"The obstruction continues, and it slows things down," the Nevada Democrat said. "We also have been hampered as a result of trying to get an extension of unemployment benefits."
Nevertheless, Mr. Reid said he will push forward with the bill eventually regardless of how all of his members may vote, noting that many in the private sector are not waiting for Washington to act.
"People have a right to vote however they want," he said. "But it makes it a little tough around here when you have companies like Gap, who have 65,000-75,000 employees, who've just done it. They've raised the minimum wage already. It's happening all over the country."
The Democratic push for the minimum wage increase suffered a blow last week after the Congressional Budget Office reported that raising the rate to $10.10 an hour will cost the U.S. economy a half-million jobs by 2016 — though it would boost wages for most low-income workers who stay on their jobs.
"The last thing we need to be doing right now in our country is passing legislation that destroys even more jobs," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.
In the House, Democrats plan to use a method called a "discharge petition" — a longstanding way for the minority party in the lower chamber to get action on its priorities.
If Democrats can get signatures of a majority of the members of Congress, the House leadership has to bring up the legislation.
The minority party starts a handful of petition drives every Congress, but they are rarely successful. The last one to succeed came was on campaign finance restrictions, more than a decade ago.
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