updated 10/26/2009 6:33:41 PM ET 2009-10-26T22:33:41

Top Democrats in the Senate are pressing a plan that would extend a popular tax credit for first-time homebuyers but gradually phase it out over the course of next year.

The proposal, by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., would extend the $8,000 tax credit — which expires Nov. 30 — through March 31. Its value would drop by $2,000 for each of the subsequent three quarters of 2010.

The plan, which could face a vote in the Senate this week, appears aimed at countering a far more generous $17 billion bipartisan plan that would extend the $8,000 credit through June 30, 2010, boost the income cap for eligibility and open the credit to all buyers, rather than first-timers.

Senators are manuevering to add the homebuyer tax credit extension to legislation to extend unemployment benefits by up to 20 weeks. That bill faces a key test vote on Tuesday.

Supporters say the tax credit has helped revive the housing market and say that if it's cut off as scheduled at the end of next month, home sales could drop off.

Reid sought to schedule a vote on the competing measures on Monday but was blocked by top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who is demanding votes on unrelated GOP proposals.

One such proposal would require people receiving unemployment insurance to be processed through the E-Verify program to prove legal immigration status and would require all federal contractors to use E-Verify. E-Verify is an Internet-based system that employers use to check on the immigration status of new hires.

The Democratic plan also would extend the ability of money-losing businesses to claim refunds on taxes paid during profitable times up to four years ago. All businesses could take advantage of the credit; when passed in February it was limited to smaller companies with annual revenues of $15 million or less.

The provision is especially popular with homebuilders who made huge profits in the housing boom but are struggling today. Critics say it's a giveaway to some of the very companies that helped build up the housing bubble years ago.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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