Friday, August 07, 2009

$2 Billion Clunkers Funding Approved; Only 6 GOP Votes

Aug 6: Although the Car Allowance Rebate Systems (CARS) or “Cash for Clunkers” program has been overwhelmingly popular with consumers, it was able to secure additional funding with the help of just six Senate Republicans [See WIMS 8/3/09]. The funding authorization bill, H.R. 3435, a supplemental appropriations for FY 2009, that passed the House 316-109 last week (incl. 77 Republicans), passed the Senate with 60 votes, including only six Republican votes. Republican Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Christopher Bond (R-MO), Susan Collins (R-ME), Bob Corker (R-TN), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and George Voinovich (R-OH) voted for additional funding that is expected to carry the program through the Congressional summer recess. Because no amendments were approved, the bill has been sent to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) released a statement saying, “Cash for Clunkers is an extraordinarily popular program that is a good example of a public-private partnership where both consumers and business win, and one that contributes to Americans’ confidence in our continuing economic recovery. This program gives a much needed jolt to our economy and our manufacturers at a critical time. Retiring and recycling older, less efficient cars and trucks and replacing them with higher fuel economy models reduces oil consumption and air pollution. Beyond helping our domestic auto industry, this program will stimulate other sectors of the auto supply chain like mechanics and auto parts manufacturers.”

Senator Snowe issued a statement saying, “I believe it is unfortunate that we hastily approved this program in the first place. This rush explains the difficulties experienced by our dealers in Maine; hour-long waits to approve a single transaction, the consistent crashing of government websites, and a lack of clarity in terms of how much money has been spent. Yet, our auto dealers are fronting the cost of this program, and are participating in good faith with the expectation they will be reimbursed; Congress cannot afford to let them down.”

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said, "This program obviously stimulates the economy, and the money to pay for it comes from the earlier stimulus bill that isn’t working. It is especially important in Tennessee where one out of every three manufacturing jobs is auto-related. I strongly oppose any effort now or in the future to pay for ‘cash for clunkers’ by adding to the debt.”

Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) delivered a statement on the Senate floor just prior to the vote saying, "Rarely has this body passed legislation that has so clearly and quickly met our goals than when it approved the first installment of money for this program earlier this summer. The program offered rebates of $3,500 or $4,500 for consumers who traded in old, inefficient vehicles for new cars or trucks with higher mileage. Thousands of consumers who hoped to take advantage now wonder if they will have the opportunity. . . The impact has been so striking that one private economist has raised his estimate for economic growth in the third quarter of this year by more than 50 percent, based solely on the success of 'cash for clunkers.'

"This program accomplished what it was intended to accomplish. In just a few days, a quarter of a million Americans traded in their old car for a new model using the credits available from this program. That’s a quarter of a million American families that more fuel-efficient transportation; a quarter of a million transactions that will pump new money into local economies; and an incalculable boost to this nation’s struggling auto industry. . ."

Senator Levin reminded members that while some amendments may be "well intentioned. . . any amendment that is adopted here would be the death knell for this program. It would have to end immediately because of the uncertainty over whether any funds remain."

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), one of four Democrats to vote against the bill, posted her rationale in advance of the vote saying, "Of course the cash for clunkers program is popular, we’re giving away money. My concerns are first, that we are just moving demand around, and that the sales in this program are robbing sales from 2, 3, or 12 months from now when we are going to still need sustained growth in our economy. Remember, around 60,000 to 70,000 people are trading their cars in for new ones every month without this program. Second, I haven’t yet gotten clear answers on how many deals are currently in the pipeline and how they will wind this program down in a way that will give certainty to buyers and dealers. Third, I’m worried that an extension right now will penalize the two companies that we just made huge taxpayer investments in. I’m trying to verify, but I believe, based on my conversations with dealers and other research, that Chrysler and GM both have inventory issues with the cars that qualify for this program. . ."

Access the Senate roll call vote on H.R. 3435 (
click here). Access the statement from Senator Reid (click here). Access the statement from Senator Snowe (click here). Access the statement from Senator Alexander (click here). Access the floor statement from Senator Levin (click here). Access a release from Senator McCaskill explaining her no vote on August 4 (click here). Access legislative details for H.R. 3435 (click here). Access the CARS website for additional information (click here).