The Republican-controlled Senate refused Wednesday to raise the minimum wage, rejecting an election-year proposal from Democrats for the first increase in nearly a decade.
The vote was 52-46, eight short of the 60 needed.
"I don't think the Republicans get it," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who backed a proposal for a three-step increase in the current wage floor to $7.25 an hour. The federal minimum wage has been fixed at $5.15 an hour since 1997.
Republican critics said the minimum wage was a job killer, not the boon to low-wage workers portrayed by Democrats.
"This is a classic debate between two different philosophies. One philosophy believes in the marketplace, competition and entrepreneurship, and the second is a philosophy that says government knows best," said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. He said France and Germany have high minimum wages, but also high unemployment.
But Kennedy and other advocates of an increase said minimum wage workers have been without a raise since 1997.
Underscoring the political context of the debate, he said if Democrats win the Senate this November, a minimum wage increase will be one of the first pieces of legislation to be considered.