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February 26, 2014

Local politics affect senators on minimum wage

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Mark Pryor is doing a delicate dance over congressional Democrats' upcoming push to boost the federal minimum wage. The Democrat from Republican-leaning Arkansas says he'll vote against the bill, but on the key roll call may oppose GOP efforts to filibuster it to death.

Democratic Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, another red state where President Barack Obama is deeply unpopular, has no such qualms. He not only backs the legislation to gradually raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour by 2016 but is co-sponsoring it.

The two Marks, both seeking re-election this fall, exemplify how local politics is complicating Democrats' push on what most of them consider a can't-miss campaign-year issue.

Tentative plans to debate the bill have slipped several times since late last year, and Democratic leaders delayed Senate debate on the proposal yet again Tuesday, saying it would come up after lawmakers return from a recess in late March.

Top Democrats blame GOP obstruction on nominations for hindering the Senate from addressing minimum wage, one of Obama's top priorities. But one Senate aide and a union lobbyist said Democrats prefer to refocus in coming days on extending benefits for the long-term unemployed, which they have tried passing repeatedly this year.

Though solid Republican opposition is the chief stumbling block to a minimum wage boost, Senate Democrats' long-shot prospects of prevailing hinge on getting virtually every Democratic vote. Even if they're defeated, many Democrats see minimum wage as a political winner because it lets them focus on income equality, motivate their most loyal voters and cast Republican opponents as uncaring.

Sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and backed by Obama, the minimum wage increase likely would get enough support from the Senate's 53 Democrats and two independents to win final approval.

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