That was thursday. When workers staged protests at fast food restaurants around the country. It came on the heels of president obama's new push to put economic inequality in the center of our... See More
That was thursday. When workers staged protests at fast food restaurants around the country. It came on the heels of president obama's new push to put economic inequality in the center of our politics. And this week, surprisingly good news on the economy. And congress. Abc news jeff zeleny reports. Reporter: The feeling of economic unease. We're on public assistance. We don't want to be. Reporter: Growing across the country. Keep your burgers keep your fries. All: Make our wages supersize. Reporter: President obama capitalizing on the sentiment. And changing the subject from health care. We know that people's frustrations run deeper than the most recent political battles. Reporter: Saying income inequality is one of the nation's greatest threats. It's rooted in the nagging sense that no matter how hard they work, the deck is stacked against them. Reporter: As the economy rebounds -- last month, 203,000 new jobs were created. Reporter: -- Fears still run deep. More than 6 in 10 workers fear for losing their jobs. An have been left out of the rekoifrry. Ricky grimes is a trash collector in rural virginia. I'm still making the same paycheck I made when I was 19 years old and I'm getting ready to be 34. And everything in the world has went up in price, but my pay stays the same. Reporter: How much government can or should help the grimes family and others is at the heart of budget talks. From deep pro posed food stamp cuts in 2 farm bill to extending unemployment benefits expeeriiring for workers. Lawmakers are zeroing in on a modest but significant budget deals. Congress is still bruised from the fall's government shutdown. Washington may be more inclined to act. For "this week." Jeff zeleny, abc news, washington. Let's get more on that now with the number two democrat in the senate, dick durbin from illinois, and from ohio, senator rob portman. Senator portman, will a deal get done this week? And can you guarantee no government shutdown? George, I certainly hope so. I think there's an obvious solution here. It was just alluded to. We can shift some of the savings from the part of the budget that congress appropriates ever year to the part of the budget, the two-thirds of the budget that is called mandatory spending. Keep the budget caps in place. Not raise taxes. Which is important in the weak economy. And actually avoid a government shutdown. I'm hopeful by the end of the week we can come together and achieve it. One of the sticking points, the extension of the unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. Senator durbin, nancy pelosi saying there is no deal without having those benefits extended. Are the democrats united on that? No extension, no deal? I don't think we have reached the point where we have said this is it, take it or leaf it. I spoke to patty murray the other night. Negotiations are moving in the right direction. Making progress. They haven't closed the deal. But I certainly hope as part of it, the negotiators will take to heart what the president had to say. There are working families across america that are struggling. There are unemployed families that need a helping hand. We have to protect and preserve the safety net in america and give these working families a fighting chance. Can the republicans live with that? Can you get an extension if it's paid for? It's about $25 billion that no one was talking about until the last week. It's an additional cost within the budget agreement. I think the thought always was that that would be handled separately. I'm glad to hear my colleague say that is not necessarily a sticking point. I think there are different ways to look at it. We have to not have another government shutdown. Don't raise taxes at a time when the economy is still weak. I think we can accomplish that over the next couple of days. Gentlemen, I have to say, it sounds like the spirit of nelson mandela is taking hold. This is a very reasonable discussion this morning. Sounds like you'll reach a deal this week. Let me turn to something else. I might be a little bit more contentious. The fight over whether or not to raise the minimum wage. We saw the protests in more than 100 american cities calling for a living wage. Senator durbin, let me begin with you. We know that there's deep divisions on this in the congress right now. If it's unlikely to see a major increase in the minimum wage right now in this congress, should companies like McDONALD'S, HEAD QUARTERED IN Your own state, do more on their own? Yes. I'll tell you, george. You can remember. You were on capitol hill. There was a time when raising the minimum wage was a bipartisan issue. We did it regularly to protect the hard-working americans that couldn't keep up with the expenses of life. Now it's a partisan issue. Same could be said when it comes to food stamps. Think about all the people working now with wajs so low that they qualify for a helping hand to put food on the table. That was the number one thing of house republicans' agenda to cut dramatically. We have to have a bipartisan consensus that people who work every day and want to go every day get a helping hand so they don't have to live paycheck to paycheck. What about that, senator portman? You can't raise a family on minimum wage. That's for sure. Can't get above the poverty line for family of two. Why not raise it? The big concern about jobs. Dick's right. In the past, some of us have voted to raise the minimum wage. I think republicans, as a whole, agree there ought to be a minimum wage and it ought to be fair. We're concerned about jobs. How do you get people to work? If you want to deal with income inequality, the number one way is to get people to work. About 2% of americans get paid the minimum wage. Of that group -- it's a lot of young people. About 50% of them between 16 and 24 years old. For a lot of them, it's a part-time job. So what you don't want to do is raise the minimum wage to the point that you're losing jobs. By the way, a lot of people have expressed this concern. Christina romer. She's raised this concern. I went to a burger place this past week. There was a digital display to be able to buy a hamburger. There was nobody behind the counter except the cashier. You go into the fast food places, there's a drink dispenser. You have one fewer person. So that's the concern. If you raise the minimum wage too high, you'll have not more jobs but fewer jobs and fewer opportunities for the young people. Because again, about half the people who get the minimum wage are between 16 and 24. I think the republicans want to look at this through the context of how do you get the economy moving? How do you increase the jobs? Despite what you said earlier, about the jobs numbers last month, the job picture is still terrible. The long-term unemployment certainly is. People are leaving the workforce. What about the arguments we just heard from senator portman? Some of those protests this week calling for a $15 an hour minimum wage. That is likely going to cost jobs. Let me remind you, you go back to the beginning of the law creating a minimum wage in america, under franklin roosevelt, 80 years ago, the same argument that my colleague from ohio just made was made against it. Every time we have tried to raise the standard of living for hard-working people at the low end of the income scale, they've said, oh, my goodness. You're just going to kill off jobs. The facts and statistics do not back it up. Here's what we have to accept. It is not just minimum wage. It's making sure through the affordable care act that working americans have access to affordable health insurance, which the other party, I'm afraid, is totally opposed to. It's the earned income tax credit created under president ronald reagan. We have to make sure that that keeps up with the needs of working americans. This used to be a bipartisan consensus. We have to get back to that day. Or the working folks across america will fall further and furtherer behind. We might get a consensus of a short-term budget deal. I'm afraid that's all we have time for. Senators, thank you both.
This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.