Washington, DC, (CNN) - Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked a top legislative and political priority of Democrats, a bill to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
The measure failed to gain enough support in a procedural vote to open debate.
In framing the issue ahead of November's midterm elections, Democrats have portrayed the GOP as insensitive to the needs of low-wage workers.
Polls show a strong majority of Americans surveyed back raising the minimum wage, which currently stands at $7.25.
Even if the Senate had moved ahead with the legislation, there was little chance the House, which is led by Republicans, would have taken it up.
Still, Democrats are vowing to return to the issue, which would boost the wage over time.
"This is an uphill fight, but it isn't over yet," said Sen. Elizabeth Warren after the vote.
Republican senators this week telegraphed their opposition, with some saying the Democratic proposal was too expensive and would lead to significant job losses if businesses were forced to adopt it.
"I think it's too high, too fast," said Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who favors a smaller increase like the one adopted in his state.
Sen. Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, also said she supports a reasonable increase in the minimum wage that could be debated.
"There's a huge area of compromise available here between $7.25 and $10.10. I think it speaks to what's wrong with Washington today -- that we're placed in a situation where it was 'take it or leave it' rather than trying to come together and offer amendments and offer a level that might be acceptable," she said after the vote.
Supporters needed 60 votes to open debate in the Democratic-led chamber. They got 54.
Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee was the only Republican who supported moving ahead with debate.
Democrats hope the issue will drive their supporters to the polls this fall and help them hold onto the majority in the Senate. They argue it is wrong that people who work 40 hours a week making the current minimum still live in poverty.
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But raising the minimum wage, the White House and other advocates argue, would have many positive effects, including increased productivity and lower turnover.
President Barack Obama in February signed an executive order raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour for federal contractors beginning in 2015, and he is pushing Congress to do the same for all workers.
Among the types of workers who would benefit from the President's order are concession workers in national parks, nursing assistants caring for veterans, people who serve food to U.S. troops and those who maintain the grounds on military bases, the White House said.
Obama, in a statement before the vote, urged lawmakers to move ahead with the proposal that he said would help 28 million Americans.
"It's time for Republicans in Congress to listen to the majority of Americans who say it's time to give America a raise," he said.
However, not all Democratic senators supported the proposal before them on Wednesday. For instance, Sen. Mark Pryor, who is facing a challenging re-election in conservative Arkansas, supports a smaller increase that is under consideration in his state.
Republicans argued the liberal agenda Reid is pushing could backfire and hurt centrist Democrats this fall.
"For the Democrats here in the Senate, particularly the vulnerable ones who are in tough competitive races, they've got to be particularly sensitive to the agenda the Democrats are driving," Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, a GOP leader, said this week. "I think there are a lot of Democrats, on minimum wage even, that are concerned about its impact on the economy."
Raising the national minimum wage appears to be popular with many voters.
Recent national polls indicated that a strong majority of Americans support raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. The most recent survey, conducted early last month by Bloomberg, put that support at 69%.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll released Tuesday indicated that by a 49%-33% margin, Americans say that the Democratic Party is closer to their views on the issue than the GOP.
And by a two-to-one margin, voters nationwide questioned earlier this month in a Quinnipiac University poll said they would be more likely than less likely to vote for a candidate who supports raising the minimum wage.