WASHINGTON – Sen. Bob Corker was the only Senate Republican to vote Wednesday to allow consideration of an increase in the minimum wage, breaking with fellow Tennessee GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander.
By a vote of 54-42, the Senate rejected a cloture motion that would have allowed a vote on legislation to gradually increase the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour by 2016. The motion needed 60 votes to carry.
Alexander voted against it; Corker joined Democrats in voting for the measure.
In May 2007, the last time Congress raised the minimum wage, both voted for the hike. The increase that year was combined with emergency spending for the Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina recovery and other matters.
More recently, they have voted together to oppose new laws affecting pay levels between men and women and preventing workplace discrimination against gays, saying they would result in unnecessary and burdensome new regulations on business.
In explaining his latest vote, Alexander pointed to a study earlier this year showing the proposed wage increase costing jobs.
"Surely Senate Democrats could come up with a better jobs program than one that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says would destroy 500,000 jobs," Alexander, who is up for re-election this year, said in a statement.
But Corker wanted the minimum-wage vote to be a jumping-off point for a broader debate about how to increase incomes of U.S. workers.
"While I think the underlying policy is problematic, I think we should always debate ways to help improve the standard of living of Americans," Corker said.
The CBO study, released in February, settled on 500,000 as the midpoint in a range of job-loss scenarios.
"As with any such estimates, however, the actual (job) losses could be smaller or larger; in CBO's assessment, there is about a two-thirds chance that the effect would be in the range between a very slight reduction in employment and a reduction in employment of 1.0 million workers," the agency said in a summary of its findings.
On the positive side, the bipartisan agency said 16.5 million low-wage workers would see an extra $31 billion in earnings by 2016, if the bill were adopted.
Democrats hope to make the minimum wage a major issue in this fall's congressional campaigns.