Democrats seek to force Republicans to vote on US minimum wage

CAMBRIDGE - Democrats in the US House of Representatives unveiled plans on Thursday to try to force Republicans to move on President Barack Obama's stalled bid to raise the federal minimum wage.

Democratic leaders said they would circulate a "discharge petition," which, if signed by half of the House's 435 members, would require Republicans to bring the measure up for a vote.

Democrats admitted that it would be an uphill battle to muster the needed signatures in the House, which is held by Republicans 232-200, with three vacancies.

But they noted that polls show that about 75 per cent of Americans support an increase in the minimum wage, and that many Republican lawmakers have said they are open to it.

"Let's see how many are willing to put their signatures where their voices have been," said Congressman Xavier Becerra of California, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

Democrats announced their plans on the eve of Obama's visit to the final day of their annual three-day retreat in the waterfront town of Cambridge, Maryland.

They said that they would begin circulating their "discharge petition" when they return to work following next week's congressional recess.

The Democratic-led Senate is expected to consider such legislation later this month or next, but Republicans appear certain to block it.

Obama wants to increase the federal minimum wage, which has stood at US$7.25(S$9.18) an hour since July 2009, to US$10.10 an hour over three years and then index it to inflation in the future.

The president and his Democrats say the minimum wage needs to be raised as part of their effort to reduce what has been a growing gap between rich and poor.

Republicans argue that an increase in the minimum wage would backfire and end up costing many Americans their jobs.

Obama and his Democrats have been frustrated by House Republican leaders, who have virtually ignored most of the president's second-term agenda.

In addition to raising the minimum wage, Obama want a comprehensive overhaul of the US immigration system and renewal of expired emergency benefits for more than 1.8 million Americans who have been out of work for six months or longer.

Polls show most Americans support these efforts, and House Democratic leaders said they may eventually circulate "discharge petitions" on both of them.

Discharge petitions are one of the few powers the House minority has to try to force action. They rarely succeed since they require many in the majority to buck their own leadership.