Update on the First Time Home Buyers Tax Credit!

Vote on Extending Homebuyer Credit Delayed Over TARP
By Brian Faler and Ryan J. Donmoyer

Oct. 30 (Bloomberg) — The U.S. Senate won’t vote until next week at the earliest on proposals to extend both an $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers and unemployment benefits for the nation’s jobless. The administration endorses an extension.

Senate action was delayed by a Republican demand that a vote be allowed on an amendment to end the Treasury Department’s Troubled Asset Relief Program at the end of this year.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, balked yesterday at the demand by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. Reid also took procedural steps to end debate and schedule Senate action on extending the homebuyer tax credit and the unemployment benefits.

“I think the first-time home-buyer credit is a great example of funding that’s helped to stabilize the housing market and should be extended,” Jared Bernstein, chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden, said on Bloomberg television. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner gave his support yesterday.

Lawmakers announced plans earlier this week to attach the tax-credit proposal to a pending bill on the unemployment benefits. The $8,000 tax credit, enacted earlier this year as part of the $787 billion economic stimulus package, is set to expire at the end of November.

April 30

The lawmakers want to extend the credit until April 30. Their proposal would also expand it to allow higher-income Americans and some who already own homes to qualify for the break.

Homebuyers who have lived in their prior residences for at least five years may receive a credit of $6,500 under the plan, said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus. Also, couples earning as much as $225,000 and individuals as much as $125,000 would qualify for the extended break, Baucus said. That’s up from a $75,000 limit for individuals and $150,000 for couples.

“The success of the American economy is closely tied to the success of the housing market; by helping to stabilize the housing market, the homebuyer tax credit has helped to shore up the economy as it begins to recover,” said Baucus, a Montana Democrat. “This would enable an even greater number of potential homebuyers to take the credit.”

Drop in Prices

Lawmakers said they want to prevent home sales from slipping as the economy struggles to recover from the worst drop in home prices since the Great Depression.

More than 1.2 million borrowers have claimed $8.5 billion of the $13.6 billion set aside for the homebuyer tax credits this year, according to the Treasury Department. The Obama administration, in endorsing the extension yesterday, said the credit has helped stabilize the nation’s housing market.

The tax break “brought new families into the housing market and contributed to three consecutive months of rising home prices,” Geithner said in a statement.

The measure would require those receiving the tax break to remain in their new homes for three years and they would have to repay the credit if they don’t.

Those buying homes worth more than $800,000 wouldn’t be eligible for the credit, said Baucus. Lawmakers also said they won’t extend the break beyond the new April 30 deadline.

‘Last Extension’

“The American people should understand this — and the affected industries — this is the last extension,” said Senator Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican who cosponsored the plan. “Tax credits like this only work by creating the sense of urgency to take advantage of them.”

Isakson estimated the new plan would cost $10.2 billion. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd said the plan wouldn’t add to the government’s budget deficit because lawmakers plan to finance it by delaying a tax break for multinational companies scheduled to take effect next year.

The bill that would include the tax-credit plan calls for extending unemployment benefits by 14 weeks in all states and by an additional six weeks in states with the highest jobless rates. That bill has been stalled for weeks because of an ongoing dispute between Reid and McConnell over amendments to the measure.

McConnell yesterday dropped his demands for votes on amendments related to immigration and the community activist group ACORN. He held firm on his push for the TARP-related amendment.

The proposal would remove Geithner’s ability to unilaterally extend the TARP program beyond its Dec. 31 expiration date to October 2010.

“It seems to me there should be a better time to have this debate,” Reid said.

Any legislation the Senate passed would have to be reconciled with a House-passed bill last month that didn’t include the tax-credit provisions and provides more limited unemployment benefits.

Reid said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, assured him that “they will accept what we’ve talked about with first-time homebuyers.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Dawn Kopecki in Washington at dkopecki@bloomberg.com; Brian Faler in Washington at bfaler@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: October 30, 2009 08:49 EDT