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Washington (AFP) – U.S. Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked a hotly-contested measure to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, smothering President Barack Obama’s priority effort to improve pay for working-class Americans.

A united Democratic front convinced just one Republican, Bob Corker, to back the measure, and with a vote count of 54-42, it failed to earn the 60 votes necessary to overcome blocking tactics and begin debate on the bill.

Democrats hope the emotional issue will propel supporters to the polls in November’s mid-term elections, when Obama’s party will find itself in a tough battle to hold on to the Senate.

Even though the bill had little chance of passing a divided Congress, Democrats seek to capitalize on the effort, painting Republicans as out-of-touch elites unperturbed that those who work 40 hours per week at the current minimum wage of $7.25 still live in poverty.

“They’re back in the 19th century saying we shouldn’t do this,” Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer said.

“We will bring this bill to the floor again and again and again… and sooner or later we will get it done.”

Democrats say hiking the wage would benefit 28 million Americans, bring millions out of poverty, ease reliance on federal aid programs, and pump billions of dollars into the economy.

Republicans, citing the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, argue the move would slash between 500,000 and one million jobs. Some have said hiking the wage to $10.10 was too hefty an increase.

“We all want to see hardworking American families work their way toward the American dream. But we’re not going to be able to do that with the federal government setting wages,” said Senate Republican John Cornyn.

The vote came on the same day the Republican-controlled House of Representatives held a Budget Committee hearing on progress in the war on poverty, prompting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to blast the “Republicans’ theater of the absurd.”

“Republicans have fashioned themselves for years as the defenders of the economy,” Reid said before the vote.

“How shocking then that Senate Republicans are not supportive of legislation to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. What is preventing my Republican colleagues from giving working Americans a fair shot?”

Democrat Edward Markey noted on the Senate floor that the minimum wage has been raised 10 times since the 1930s, most recently during the presidency of Republican George W. Bush.

But with low-income families in 2012 earning less than they did in 1989, accounting for inflation, and the top percent of earners seeing incomes skyrocket by 86 percent, Markey said there was growing inequality in the U.S. economy.

“The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. That’s the system we have right now unless we take action,” he warned.

AFP Photo/Mladen Antonov

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