House Republicans blocked a Democratic attempt Tuesday to extend unemployment benefits for an eighth time since 2008, saying they couldn't stomach adding the $33.9 billion price tag to the deficit.
Minutes later, on an overwhelming bipartisan vote, the House approved a bill to extend the deadline for qualifying for the homebuyer's tax credit started in last year's stimulus bill.
The difference, Republicans said, was that the costs of the homebuyer credit were offset so as not to add to the deficit, while the unemployment extension was not.
"The issue isn't should we extend benefits to the unemployed, the issue is should they be paid for," said Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, the ranking Republican on the Ways and Means Committee.
The homebuyer bill now goes to the Senate, where Democratic leaders hope to get a final bill passed and to the president this week, because a home purchase must close by June 30 under the current deadline to qualify for the tax credit.
House Democrats, meanwhile, said they'll try again later this week to pass extended unemployment benefits, but said that in the interim Republicans have turned their backs on the neediest Americans and the GOP will suffer for the blockade.
"Those who vote 'no' when they go back home are really going to find themselves basically alone, because those who vote 'no' have no place to hide," said Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sander M. Levin, Michigan Democrat.
Unemployment benefits have become one of the key battles as Democrats push to extend stimulus programs and Republicans balk at the growing cost. Tuesday's vote comes after Democrats repeatedly failed to pass a broad stimulus extension in the Senate, which also would have included unemployment benefits.
Democrats brought their new version of the bill to the House floor under expedited rules, which required a two-thirds majority to pass.
The final tally was 261-155, with 231 Democrats and 30 Republicans in favor, and 16 Democrats joining 139 Republicans in blocking the bill.
Democrats said they will try again this week under regular rules that require only a majority vote. They said 1.7 million Americans will have exhausted their benefits by this weekend.
They had designated the money as an emergency, thus exempting it from their own pay-as-you-go requirements for increased spending. They said there has always been an understanding that unemployment benefits don't have to be "paid for."
But Republicans said Democrats have found offsets on at least one prior extension, setting a precedent for doing it again.
The homebuyer bill requires buyers to have put a contract on a home by May 1 but extends the date for closing the deal from June 30 to Sept. 30.
Democrats said an estimated 180,000 additional homebuyers will have access to the credit, which can reach up to $8,000.
The vote on the homebuyer credit was 409-5, with the five "no" votes coming from Republicans.
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