Senate Democrats Push Minimum-Wage Fight to March

The delay on one of President Obama's top priorities comes on the heels of a mixed CBO report and a slowdown in the Senate.

Democrats are delaying a bill to raise the federal minimum wage until at least late March. The legislation, which represents a key priority for both President Obama and congressional Democrats, will not come to floor until after the Senate returns from its next recess, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said Tuesday.

A Senate Democratic aide confirmed that the issue has been pushed until at least March 24, when the Senate returns from its next break.

The news comes just a week after the Congressional Budget Office released a report showing that raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, as Democrats are pushing, would cost the nation 500,000 jobs. The report also showed, however, that 900,000 individuals would be brought out of poverty and 16.5 million would receive a wage increase.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid alluded to the delay in his weekly press briefing on Tuesday, blaming Republican obstruction over unemployment insurance, another key Democratic priority, for pushing the issue back to March. "The obstruction continues, and it slows things down," Reid said.

The majority leader also stood his ground on the $10.10 figure, saying he would not compromise with Republicans on a lower increase. The same CBO report showed that a $9 minimum wage would have substantially less of an impact on jobs (with just 100,000 jobs lost), but that just 7.6 million workers would see a wage increase — half of those affected by the $10.10 option.

House Democrats, meanwhile, are not satisfied with waiting. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will announce tomorrow that her conference will push a discharge petition to force a vote on the issue "as soon as possible," according to an aide, who confirmed that House Democratic leadership will move forward on the bill regardless of what their Senate counterparts have planned.

The discharge petition, which would require 218 signatures, would allow the measure to bypass the committee process and head directly to the floor. The petition would need 19 Republican signatures, no easy feat, given GOP opposition on the issue, particularly in the wake of last week's CBO report. Only seven discharge petitions have accrued sufficient signatures to get to the floor in the past 30 years, although Pelosi's office notes that another 12 were allowed to move forward before all 218 members signed on.

Still, it's clear that Republican leadership will present a significant roadblock on the issue. House Speaker John Boehner's spokesman Brendan Buck seemed to dismiss the issue last week in responding to the CBO report. "With unemployment Americans' top concern, our focus should be creating — not destroying — jobs for those who need them most," Buck said.