Unemployed Face Holidays Without Gov't Benefits

With so much at stake, over the days and weeks ahead the "CBS Evening News" will be taking a closer look at the Tough Choices the country will be facing to reduce the debt and deficit. (Scroll down to vote your opinion on the issue)

A battle is under way on extending benefits for the long-term unemployed, those that have been out of work for six months or more.

The government has spent $160 billion this year on these benefits. Extending them into next year would cost another $65 billion. Letting the benefits lapse or finding a way to pay for them presents Congress with a tough choice, CBS News Correspondent Nancy Cordes reports.

(Scroll down to watch a video of this report)

Unemployed workers from Philadelphia and New York boarded buses bound for Washington Wednesday morning to urge Congress to reinstate their lapsed unemployment benefits.

"We, the unemployed, are jobless through no fault of our own," one job-seeker told a crowd of unemployed workers.

The Challenge:
These benefits expired for more than 800,000 jobless Americans Tuesday night and will run out for more than a million more if Congress doesn't act by the end of the year.

James Dias, 57, of Queens, N.Y., is an out-of-work bricklayer who's been on unemployment for six months.

"There's no work," Dias said.

CBS Evening News Series: "Tough Choices"

Congress has extended unemployment insurance benefits eight times since the economy tanked in 2008 and hasn't paid for it seven of those times.

"I'm not an economist, and I'm not bright enough to figure it out, but just kind of being raised by an old country boy it seems like we keep putting Band-Aids on a body that has a cut artery," Anthony Roebuck, an unemployed sheet metal worker, said.

Republicans are demanding the benefits be offset by other cuts. Democrats say it's an emergency.

"I find it difficult to understand how some of my colleagues on the other side would object to an extension of unemployment benefits for a year that are not offset but at the same time insist that we provide tax cuts for the very richest Americans without paying for them," Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said.

Contributing to the pressure-cooker environment, Republicans issued an ultimatum in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refusing to "proceed to any legislative item until the Senate has acted to fund the government" and "prevented the tax increase."

"We spent seven days on food safety," said Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass. "I love to eat like the next guy but give me a break."

The Choice:
House Democrats have called a vote on the Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class for Thursday, but that actually infuriated Republicans, who want the tax cuts extended for everyone.

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    Nancy Cordes is CBS News' congressional correspondent.