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Lobbyists pay little heed to wage hike proposal

The odds that Congress will pass an increase in the U.S. minimum wage before the November elections are so low that even the nation’s lobbyists are largely ignoring it.

The AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest union group, won’t gear up a push in Congress until a vote on an increase is scheduled in the Senate, said chief lobbyist Bill Samuel. His group, and business organizations that oppose raising hourly pay, are giving more attention to wage proposals in the states.

The National Retail Federation’s lobbying in Congress “has been at most a modest stab,” said David French, chief lobbyist for the Washington-based industry group that opposes the legislation. “When it is really around the corner, you’ll see the lobbying pick up, but it’s not going to require an all-out blitz.”

The proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from $7.25 is being pushed by President Barack Obama, by U.S. Senate candidates in at least six states, and in campaign commercials in four states. Still, little pressure is being applied in Congress, nine senators said in interviews.

Instead, advocacy groups see the legislation as the beginning of a broader campaign that may span years. In at least eight states so far this year, a proposed increase in the state pay floor has cleared either the Senate or House, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In New York, the minimum wage was raised 75 cents to $8 this year. It will increase at the end of 2014 to $8.75 an hour and to $9 an hour at the end of 2015.

The federal minimum wage hasn’t been increased since 2009.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid postponed a vote in his chamber earlier this month to give labor unions more time to organize support, said a leadership aide who sought anonymity to discuss strategy.

A Senate vote – especially with no House action expected amid Republican opposition – would create a list of targets for interest groups. This makes a decision on the vote a complicated choice for Reid, and for Democratic senators seeking re-election in states that voted Republican in the 2012 presidential contest.

If those senators vote no, they could suppress Democratic turnout. If they vote yes, they give opponents an issue to use against them.

At least four Democrats seeking re-election next year have expressed reservations about supporting a $10.10 minimum wage. They are Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Udall of Colorado and Mark Warner of Virginia. Landrieu and Pryor are running in states Obama lost in 2012.

The perception that a federal wage increase is more of a political talking point than a real possibility saps enthusiasm from some senators who might be willing to work on the issue.

In addition to Alaska, state minimum wage increases are on the ballot or are being considered for the ballot in South Dakota, Arkansas, California, Idaho, Massachusetts and Missouri, according to the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, a Washington-based group that tracks voter initiatives.

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have set their minimum wages above $7.25 an hour.