(CNSNews.com) - Almost 11 million people couldn't find a job in November, and for those who don't earn a paycheck, unemployment benefits work for the economy, too, a leading Democrat says.
"Economists agree that unemployment benefits remain one of the best ways to grow the economy in a very immediate way," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (R-Calif.) said at a news conference on Thursday.
She spoke after Democrats held a hearing on the impending expiration of unemployment benefits -- an "essential lifeline that millions of Americans and their families depend on," Pelosi said.
Witnesses at Thursday's hearing spoke "passionately" about the 1.3 million Americans who will lose the federal unemployment compensation on December 28 -- "right in the middle of the holidays," Pelosi said. And she said 1.9 million more Americans will lose their state benefits in the first half of next year.
"So it is absolutely essential that we extend the benefits." Pelosi said she'd like to see unemployment insurance included in a budget bill -- "but it could be separate from that as well."
Citing data from the Congressional Budget Office, Pelosi said failure to extend jobless benefits will cost the nation 200,000 jobs over the next year.
"Economists agree that unemployment benefits remain one of the best ways to grow the economy in a very immediate way. It immediately injects demand into our markets and increases employment. For every dollar spent on unemployment benefits, the economy grows by, according to one estimate, $1.52; by others, $2. So somewhere in that range, but much more than is spent on it," Pelosi said.
"We have a responsibility to the American people. These are people who have played by the rules, have lost their job through no fault of their own, and need these benefits in order to survive. So we must extend this insurance before the end of the year and we must extend it for at least a year. And I'd like to see that as we go forward before this year ends. Hopefully it could be part of a budget, but it doesn't have to be part of a budget. It could be in its own vehicle as it goes forward, but it's something we must consider."
House Speaker John Boehner told Americans on Thursday that he would "surely entertain" a Democratic plan for extending unemployment benefits, but he also said that's not where the focus should be: "I would argue the president's real focus ought to be creating a better environment for our economy and creating more jobs for the American people. That's where the focus is, not more government programs."
Pelosi on Thursday said "time is running out" on a budget agreement. Although negotiations are continuing, there is no final deal. But Pelosi said House Democrats "want to extend the hand of friendship" to Republicans and "cooperate in a way that grows the economy, reduces the deficit and does so in a way that is fair and strengthens the middle class."
That means spending money on the national infrastructure, replacing the budget reductions known as the sequester, closing "tax loopholes," and extending unemployment insurance.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), one of the House budget conferees, said Democrats would pay for extended unemployment compensation by tracking down "deadbeat taxpayers."
"If you just get a few more people to try and track down the deadbeats, people who are trying to hide their money overseas, that in fact you can cover the cost," he said.