Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Nelson Says Senate to Extend, Reduce Homebuyer Credit (Update3)
By Ryan J. Donmoyer and Dawn Kopecki
Oct. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Senate leaders are negotiating to extend and gradually reduce an $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers through 2010, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida said. “We should be able to extend that later this week,” Nelson, a Democrat, told reporters traveling today with President Barack Obama on Air Force One to a speech in Jacksonville, Florida. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana, both Democrats, may seek to add the homebuyers extension to legislation extending unemployment benefits that may be debated as early as this week, according to Regan Lachapelle, an aide to Reid. Lawmakers are under pressure from real estate agents, mortgage brokers and homebuilders to extend the $8,000 credit before it expires Nov. 30.
Baucus and Reid made a proposal last week to Senate Republicans that would extend the homebuyer credit through 2010, Lachapelle said. First-time homebuyers who close before April 1 would get the full $8,000, and the credit’s value would be reduced by $2,000 in each successive quarter until expiring at the end of the year. “Relative to current law, this is better. But it’s worse than people are expecting,” said Tom Gallagher, head of policy research in the Washington offices of International Strategy and Investment Group, an independent research firm. “This is a four-month extension and a nine-month phase-out.”
A gauge of 12 homebuilders in Standard & Poor’s indexes slumped 3.4 percent, led by declines of at least 3.8 percent in Pulte Homes Inc. and D.R. Horton Inc.
The proposal was intended to counter one by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, and Senator Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican and former real estate agent, to extend the full $8,000 credit through next June and to expand it to all couples earning $300,000 or less. The Baucus-Reid proposal would continue limiting the benefit to first-time homebuyers, Lachapelle said. The terms for extending the homebuyer tax credit are still being negotiated, Lachapelle said. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, is waiting to see the final Senate agreement before deciding whether to support it. “Generally, we do support extending it,” Pelosi spokesman Nedeam Elshami said. “But it’s premature to say anything until we see what action the Senate takes.”
Business Tax Break
Baucus and Reid also proposed an extension of a business tax break that allows companies with losses in 2008 and 2009 to amend tax returns for any of the previous four years to get a refund of taxes paid. Without the benefit, companies would have to wait years to apply those losses against future profits.
A version of the benefit was included in last February’s economic stimulus bill, though it was limited to companies with receipts under $15 million. A lobbying effort by business groups, including the Washington-based National Association of Manufacturers, to extend the benefit to all companies failed at the time; the Obama administration has since proposed a broader benefit in its budget.
The Reid-Baucus proposal was drafted to have a neutral effect on budget deficits by delaying until 2017 a tax benefit that would let multinational corporations claim more interest deductions. The break, enacted in 2004, is currently slated to take effect in 2011.
The first-time homebuyer credit, while popular with lawmakers, came under scrutiny last week when government officials said millions of dollars in benefits were erroneously or fraudulently claimed.
The Internal Revenue Service has identified 73,799 claims totaling almost $504 million that may not be from first-time homebuyers. They also found that 582 taxpayers under 18 years old and ineligible to buy a home claimed almost $4 million in credits. Children as young as 4 years old received the credit, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George told a House panel.
Linda Stiff, the IRS’s deputy commissioner for enforcement, told the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight that her staff has identified 160 potential criminal cases and 115 are now under investigation. In total, 8,000 claims have been flagged for potential criminal fraud, she said. “We are and will continue to vigorously pursue those who filed fraudulent claims for the credit,” Stiff said.
More than 1.2 million borrowers through Oct. 9 have claimed almost $8.5 billion of the $13.6 billion set aside for “first- time” homebuyer tax credits this year, George said. The program is aimed at easing the worst housing slump since the Great Depression.
Ryan J. Donmoyer in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.orgDawn Kopecki in Washington at email@example.com
Last Updated: October 26, 2009 17:58 EDT
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