The Senate on Thursday passed a bipartisan package of tax breaks and other steps designed to help businesses and homeowners weather the housing crisis.
The measure passed 84 to 12, but even its supporters acknowledge it's tilted too much in favor of businesses. "Quite candidly, what we've done does not quite live up to the title," said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and the measure's top sponsor. "We have more work to do. We did not do enough in preventing more foreclosures."
The measure, called the Foreclosure Prevention Act, will be significantly redrawn by House critics who say it favors home builders instead of borrowers at risk of losing their homes. The House is likely to reject key portions of the Senate measure, including $25 billion over three years in tax breaks for money-losing businesses.
The White House opposes the plan but has not issued a veto threat. It says parts of the bill would make the problem worse by depressing some home values, and that the measure inappropriately uses taxpayer money to bail out lenders saddled with foreclosed houses.
The main provisions in the Senate bill include: an overhaul of the Federal Housing Administration, $4 billion in grants that local governments could use to buy foreclosed homes, property tax relief for homeowners who do not itemize their taxes, a $7,000 tax credit over two years for those who buy foreclosed homes and $100 million for counseling services.
Minnesota senators weigh in: Also included is a provision from Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., that would give troops returning from service one year of relief from interest rate increases on their mortgages. It also would extend from 90 days to nine months the time before lenders could begin foreclosure proceedings on returning troops. Another proposal from Coleman, which would have allowed homeowners to dip into retirement savings without penalty to avoid foreclosure, was not included.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said she was generally pleased with the bill, but suggested that some of the provisions -- including the tax break to buy foreclosed homes -- be modified in the House. She said it is not clear "whether or not that would truly be an effective incentive and a necessary incentive when in fact these homes are already a fairly good deal to buy."