The cash-for-clunkers program is a huge hit with consumers, especially the tight-budgeted among us who have been holding on to cars that get less than 18 miles per gallon. All over the country, dealers have reported great traffic as car buyers rush in to get the federally subsidized $4,500 for trading in their gas guzzlers and buying a new fuel-efficient car. Helps the environment. Helps the car industry. Even helps the junkyard industry, recipients for the old heaps.
Last week the Obama administration realized the government was fast running out of money for the program, originally budgeted at $1 billion. (Germany, with a smaller economy, recently budgeted $7 billion for a similar program there, and auto sales increased faster than traffic on the Autobahn.) So the House rushed to earmark $2 billion more before it left town last week, to keep the program going.
Now it's up to the Senate where, as car dealers might say, more money is by no means a done deal.
Arizona's favorite Republican maverick, John McCain, has, colleagues say, decided to lead the charge against putting any more money in the program. The issue: increasing debt in an unfair effort to subsidize the car industry over other deserving small businesses.
"My children and grandchildren are going to have to pay for these cars and we’re helping auto dealers while there are thousands of other small businesses that aren’t getting the help,” said South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint on Fox News Sunday. “The role of the federal government is not to run the used car business.”
Noting that McCain "is going to stand up and try to stop it, " DeMint promised to "work with him every way that I can...This is a great example of the stupidity that's coming out of Washington right now, and I think Americans realize the numbers that we're throwing around don't work."
McCain's staffers confirmed that the senator will lead a filibuster against the idea. As the GOP's 2008 presidential candidate told Fox News last week, "Within a few weeks we will see that this process was abused by speculators and people who took advantage of what is basically a huge government subsidy of corporations that they already own."
If they do mount a drive against the cash-for-clunkers program, Republicans might find some unexpected support. Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill at first signaled in a tweet last week that she will oppose any extension. "We simply cannot afford any more taxpayr $ to extend cash for clunkers,” McCaskill said in a Twitter message. “Idea was to prime the pump, not subsidize auto purchases forever.”
She must have heard from a lot of dealers in the Show Me State because later the senator went back on Twitter, putting out a new tweet saying she would consider using existing stimulus funds to extend the Cash for Clunkers program.
-- Johanna Neuman
Photo credit: Mel Evans / Associated Press, of car dealership; Senate staff photo of Sen. McCaskill