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Minimum-wage debate gets maximum politics as Senate Republicans block increase

WASHINGTON - Efforts to raise the minimum wage appear doomed this year, the victim of the kind of bitter partisan bickering that's become commonplace on Capitol Hill.

WASHINGTON - Efforts to raise the minimum wage appear doomed this year, the victim of the kind of bitter partisan bickering that's become commonplace on Capitol Hill.

The bid to gradually increase the wage, now $7.25, to $10.10, was scuttled by a Senate vote to limit debate. Supporters fell six votes short of the 60 needed, as all but one Republican - Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker - cast a vote that effectively blocked consideration. All Philadelphia-area senators voted in favor, except Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), who voted no.

The 54-42 vote followed what's becoming a familiar pattern: Congress does little to resolve vexing issues like immigration or overhauling the tax code, takes lengthy breaks, returns and eagerly takes votes on bills designed to showcase partisan positions that have little or no chance of actually passing - everyone knows it.

Some Republicans were talking compromise on the minimum wage Wednesday, but they quickly conceded their effort would go nowhere.

"There's a lot of room between $7.25 and $10.10," said Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine), who was seeking consensus. "Today's vote is an attempt to score a political point."

Both parties are playing to their political bases, trying to get supportive voters to the polls in a year when all indications are that turnout will be dismal. That became obvious a few hours after the vote when President Obama held a campaign-style event at the White House. He urged Americans to vent their frustration at the ballot box in November and by contacting lawmakers through social media.

"If there's any good news here, Republicans in Congress don't get the last word on this issue. You do," Obama said. "The American people vote. . . . Don't get discouraged. Get fired up."

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who is facing a potentially tough reelection fight this fall, insisted a $10.10 wage would cost jobs. Democrats, he said, "don't seem to care that about 6 in 10 Americans oppose a bill like this if it means losing hundreds of thousands of American jobs. Because Washington Democrats' true focus these days seems to be making the far left happy - not helping the middle class."

What made the minimum wage issue particularly valuable to both parties was data supporting both points of view.

A February report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that the increase would have two effects: Most low-wage workers would "receive higher pay that would increase their family's income, and some of those families would see their income rise above the federal poverty threshold."

But, the CBO added, "Some jobs for low-wage workers would probably be eliminated, the income of most workers who became jobless would fall substantially, and the share of low-wage workers who were employed would probably fall slightly." Once fully implemented in the fall of 2016, the CBO said, total employment would probably fall about 500,000 jobs, or 0.3 percent.

In the House, a similar partisan battle erupted, though it involved broader topics. The Congressional Black Caucus met for an hour with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republicans' 2012 vice presidential candidate, to take him to task for comments he made on a conservative talk radio show last month that questioned the work ethic of inner-city men.