WASHINGTON -- The number of long-term jobless Americans missing out on federal unemployment insurance this week topped 2 million.
Benefits ended for 1.3 million workers in December. Each week since then, another 70,000 Americans who would have been eligible have joined them.
In a budget proposal released Tuesday, President Barack Obama called on Congress to restore the benefits as "a starting point in achieving opportunity and mobility," at a cost of $15 billion. The budget outline notes that 35 percent of the unemployed have been out of work six months or longer, a higher rate of long-term joblessness than at any other time Congress has dropped extended benefits.
Democrats and Republicans have fought over reauthorizing the compensation, but a resolution seems unlikely as budget blueprints and foreign crises increasingly dominate lawmakers' attention.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said the Senate will vote sometime soon on legislation that would reauthorize federal benefits programs for six months. Even if the Senate passes a bill, however, there is no guarantee it would pass the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Unable to force a vote, Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees unemployment insurance policy in the lower chamber, put a ticker on their website that counts the number of people missing out on benefits. It crossed 2 million early on Tuesday.
While the ticker suggests another person is losing benefits every few seconds, states typically distribute benefits all at once via direct deposit every two weeks, so people are really missing out in waves rather than a steady drip.
The Senate's most recent attempt to reauthorize the benefits failed by one vote. The close call heartened some Democrats who might have lost their enthusiasm for the issue if the vote failed by a wider margin.
"I still honestly think there's optimism that it can get past the Senate," said Josh Drobnyk, a spokesman for Ways and Means Democrats. "It came one vote short the last time. That's all that stands in the way."
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