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Democrats seek to force House vote on minimum wage hike, leaving immigration for later date

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CAMBRIDGE, Md. - House Democrats said Thursday they will try to highlight GOP resistance to a higher minimum wage with a tactical manoeuvr meant to bring new attention to an issue they consider a political winner.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said her party will push a "discharge petition" when Congress returns from its recess on Feb. 24. If Democrats can persuade roughly two dozen Republicans to sign the petition, it would force GOP leaders to allow a House vote on the wage issue.

Most Republican lawmakers oppose a higher minimum wage. They say it prompts employers to cut down on hiring, a claim Democrats dispute.

It's by no means clear Democrats can collect enough signatures in the House, where they hold 200 seats to the Republicans' 232. Three seats are vacant.

Pelosi's announcement, at a House Democratic retreat in rural Maryland, might displease immigration reform advocates who want priority given to a discharge petition on that subject. Pelosi said a discharge effort may come later for immigration, but "right now we're starting with the minimum wage."

Democrats say most Americans favour both a higher minimum wage and sweeping changes to immigration laws. They say Republican leaders thwart the public's will by refusing to allow House votes on these topics.

President Barack Obama and many congressional Democrats want to raise the federal minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour to $10.10.

An AP-GfK Poll in January found 55 per cent of U.S. adults favour an increase in the minimum wage. Just 21 per cent oppose it, and 23 per cent are neutral.

Democrats say it's frustrating to see polls show widespread support for their proposals — including a higher minimum wage and an immigration overhaul — even as Republicans appear likely to retain their House majority and possibly gain control of the Senate in this year's elections.

Some strategists want congressional Democrats to find new ways to underscore their differences with Republicans, and paint Republicans as obstructionists.

"The minimum wage is one of the illuminating contrasts we have," Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., told reporters at the party's retreat. He chairs the committee overseeing Democrats' House races.

Earlier, Republicans dismissed the idea of Democrats getting enough petition signatures to force a House vote on a Senate immigration bill that would grant new pathways to legal status for millions of immigrants.

"This scheme has zero chance of success," said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. "A clear majority in the House understands that the massive Senate-passed bill is deeply flawed."

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said he believes nearly all House Democrats would sign a petition seeking a vote on a higher minimum wage. If all 200 Democrats did so, they would need 17 Republicans to join them.

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Associated Press writer Donna Cassata and Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta in Washington contributed to this report.

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