CAPITOL HILL – Fact One: For the last nine years, the minimum wage (search) has been set at $5.15 an hour. That's $206 a week or a little more than $10,000 a year for those who put in a 40-hour work week — mostly those in service-industry jobs.
Fact Two: During those same nine years, members of Congress have seen their wages grow by $28,500. House and Senate members are now paid $162,000 annually for their public service jobs.
Those distinctive facts apparently made little difference to the Senate on Monday, which beat down two measures to raise the minimum wage. Though the two sides of the political debate agreed to consider the measures, Senate rules left lawmakers with the clear understanding that neither measure would muster enough votes to pass.
Sen. Ted Kennedy (search) sponsored the first measure, one to raise the minimum for low-income workers incrementally to $7.25 an hour over the next 26 months. The phase-in would have occurred as three 70-cent raises.
"They work as hard as any American, often even harder. But too often they're forced into bankruptcy because the minimum wage won't cover their bills and won't give their families the support they need. We can no longer turn our back on our fellow citizens, but that is exactly what is happening in the United States Senate," Kennedy, D-Mass., said during debate.
The second proposal, offered by Sen. Rick Santorum (search), would raise the minimum to $6.25 an hour over the next 18 months in two 55-cent increases. But Santorum's proposal also included modest tax breaks for small businesses and opportunities for workers to opt for more flexible schedules that opponents say allows employers to avoid overtime.
"I feel very comfortable that our proposal keeps the balance between the ability of lower-skilled employees to enter the work force at a wage in which they are compensated for the skills they bring to the job," Santorum, R-Pa., said.
Kennedy said Santorum had a long record of opposing minimum wage hikes. Santorum countered that the Democratic increase would lead to the highest percentage of workers paid the minimum wage since the late 1970s, a period marked by "hyperinflation" and double-digit interest rates.
Despite the debate, under unusual Senate rules, both sides of the aisle agreed that if neither measure received 60 votes — enough to overcome threatened filibusters — the amendments to the bankruptcy bill would be withdrawn.
That is, in fact, what happened. Kennedy's amendment went down 46-49. Santorum's measure failed 61-38. Both sides of the aisle can now claim honestly to have voted for an increase in the minimum wage, even though they knew full well neither proposal had a real chance of passing.
Democrats say they will try again, but House Republican leaders said even if a Senate measure passed, they would not consider any bill for a minimum wage increase this year. Most participants and observers say they see this as a dead issue for the foreseeable future.
Click in the box near the top of the story for a report by FOX News' Brian Wilson.