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Senate to Vote on UI Extension, Homebuyer’s Tax Credit Tweak

The Senate leadership thinks it has found a package that can move to break the logjam on unemployment extensions, a $34 billion dollar measure that would extend (but not add a new tier of) jobless benefits for six months, through the end of November 2010. There would be retroactive benefits added for those who have seen their benefits expire as well. This is basically the same bill that got 261 votes in the House today (it didn’t pass because they were operating under suspension of the rules, but it clearly has the votes to pass under a rule).

But that isn’t the only piece of this bill. It would also extend the closing date of the homebuyer’s tax credit, which expired April 30, out to October 30. The claim here from supporters, particularly Harry Reid of the housing market-ravaged sand state of Nevada, is that people who got into the homebuyer’s tax credit haven’t seen their mortgage close because of the slowness of applications, so this merely gives time for all the deals to get processed. In actuality, this measure invites backdating and fraud.

What’s interesting here is that the House passed the homebuyer’s tax credit extension today as a standalone bill, 409-5. It included a few pay-fors to offset the estimated $140 million cost, the same as in the Senate package (I’ll put the whole summary on the flip). But that was a standalone piece. The Senate combined the homebuyer’s tax credit extension and the UI extension as a substitute amendment to what was once the tax extenders/jobs bill. So the House is passing two separate bills, and the Senate one? Well, yes; if the Senate gets through this one they’ll just drop it in the House’s lap.

The plan is this: Reid filed cloture and “filled the amendment tree” on this substitute amendment, basically limiting what can get attached to it on the Senate floor. The cloture vote can occur one hour after the Senate convenes on Thursday, sliding it in just before Robert Byrd lies in repose in the chamber. However, there could be an agreement to move on the amendment along with a Republican alternative tomorrow.

By filing cloture, clearly Reid feels like he has 60 votes for this, despite the loss of Byrd. Olympia Snowe has signaled her willingness to pass a standalone UI bill, and the Senate voted for the homebuyer’s extension unanimously as an amendment to the original tax extenders bill, so that shouldn’t gum anything up. The 60 votes are probably out there, I’d say.

Needless to say, it’s good to give six months of certainty to Americans bumping up against the expiration date for their jobless benefits, and the $34 billion will technically be stimulative. But this is quite a comedown from what was originally pitched as a $200 billion dollar bill.

Full summary of the bill, which could get a vote tomorrow, on the flip:

Unemployment Insurance

Extension of Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program – The Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program phased-out at the end of May 2010. This program provides (depending on a State’s unemployment rate) up to fifty-three (53) weeks of extended benefits. The bill would extend the EUC program through November 2010 and is retroactive.

Extension of Extended Benefits (EB) program – 100% Federal funding for the Extended Benefits (EB) program phased-out at the end of May 2010. This program provides up to an additional 13 to 20 weeks of benefits in certain States (i.e., 13 weeks for States at or above 6.5% unemployment and another 7 weeks for States at or above 8% unemployment). The bill would extend full funding for the EB program through November 2010.

Eliminating the penalty for part-time employment in the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program – The legislation coordinates EUC Benefits with regular Benefits by providing States with a number of options to allow EUC claimants to remain eligible for the EUC program when they become newly entitled to State unemployment compensation if switching to State benefits would reduce their weekly UI check by at least $100 or 25 percent.

The three provisions immediately above are estimated to cost $33.9 billion over ten years.

Homebuyer Tax Credit

Extension of Closing Date for Homebuyer Tax Credit – As part of the Worker, Homeownership, and Business Assistance Act of 2009, the homebuyer tax credit was expanded and extended to allow homebuyers to receive a tax credit for the purchase of a qualifying home through April 30, 2010. Homebuyers can benefit from the tax credit up to July 1, 2010 if they entered into a binding contract by April 30, 2010 and close on the home within 60 days. This provision extends the closing date for homebuyers who entered into a binding contract by April 30, 2010, allowing them to be eligible for the tax credit if they close on the home before October 1, 2010. The provision is estimated to cost $140 million over ten years.

Other Provisions

Change to the Travel Promotion Act (TPA) – This provision delays the timing of when the Department of Homeland Security is supposed to transfer the initial set-up fee for the Travel Promotion Board. The original act required DHS to begin transferring the $10 million initial set-up fee on January 1, 2010 and to complete the initial transfer by the end of fiscal year 2010. The amended provision requires DHS to transfer monies collected as the money comes in with the completion of the initial transfer to be completed by the end of fiscal year 2011. The change also delays by 1 year the dates upon which the Travel Promotion Board must begin matching funds DHS transfers to The Travel Promotion Corporation (from 2011 to 2012). Therefore, instead of sunsetting in 2014, the fee collection sunsets in 2015. This provision is estimated to save $95 million over ten years.

Disclosure of Prisoner Return Information to State Prison Officials – In June 2010, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) released a report estimating that about 1,300 prison inmates (more than 90 percent of whom were state prison inmates) claimed and received more than $9 million in fraudulent first-time homebuyer tax credits. TIGTA’s report noted that, under current law, the IRS may exchange with officers and employees of the Federal Bureau of Prisons certain tax return information with respect to prisoners whom the Secretary has determined may have filed or facilitated the filing of false or fraudulent tax returns. Current law allows the IRS to exchange information with State prison officials in limited circumstances. State prison authorities have stated that a cooperative effort is necessary to combat prisoner tax fraud. To permit effective tax administration, the bill would allow the IRS to disclose tax return information to officers and employees of State agencies charged with the administration of prisons. This provision is estimated to raise $6 million over ten years.

Rescissions to Appropriations Accounts – The amendment rescinds $94 million from non-Recovery Act Defense Department unobligated balances which will expire on September 30, 2010, and are excess to current requirements. This provision is estimated to save $45 million over 10 years.

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David Dayen

David Dayen