The Senate sure is dragging out this latest handout to car companies and consumers (a.k.a., “Cash For Clunkers”).
Perhaps it’s the niggling realisation that it’s just a flat-out giveaway.
By KEN THOMAS and LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press, WASHINGTON – Negotiations to save the dwindling “cash-for-clunkers” fund dragged out in the Senate on Wednesday, prompting Majority Leader Harry Reid to warn vacation-bound lawmakers they might be stuck in the Capitol a few more days if they don’t pass a $2 billion replenishment for the car rebate program quickly.
The government said it had spent $775.2 million of the $1 billion fund through late Tuesday, accounting for nearly 185,000 new vehicles sold, with buyers receiving rebates of up to $4,500. President Barack Obama has said the program would go broke by Friday if not replenished by Congress.
That’s the same day the Senate was to follow the House into a monthlong recess, a looming break that Senate leaders often use to prod their colleagues past standoffs.
Reid did just that on Wednesday, threatening to start a series of procedural votes that would eat into the coveted August break if Republicans and a handful of Democrats did not agree on whether to pass or change the replenishment approved last week in the House.
“I’ve indicated what … we have to complete before we leave here and that’s all dependent on what cooperation we get from the minority whether we finish (Thursday), Friday or Saturday,” Reid said, adding that the Senate could potentially complete its work on Thursday.
There was every indication the Senate would approve the bill this week, but Reid said no votes would take place on Wednesday.
“We all acknowledge there’s a significant majority that want to move forward with this legislation,” said Reid, D-Nev., adding that he has the votes to approve the House-passed version, as is. His Republican counterpart, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, concurred that the matter would be settled soon. And objectors conceded they do not have the votes to force all of the changes they want, or to block the House version of the bill.
“My guess is, at the end of the day, it will pass,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who called it an example of “Congress choosing winners and losers among industries.”
The program offers car buyers rebates of between $3,500 and $4,500 for trading in their gas-guzzlers for new, higher-mileage models.
The new funding would triple the cost of $1 billion rebate program and give as many as a half-million more Americans the chance to grab the new car incentives through September.
Car companies have credited the clunkers program with driving up sales in late July. Most consumers are buying smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles under the program, according to a list of the top-10 selling cars released Wednesday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Among manufacturers, General Motors Co. had the largest share, accounting for 18.7 per cent of new sales, followed by Toyota Motor Corp. with 17.9 per cent. Ford Motor Co. was third with 16 per cent of the sales. Detroit automakers represented 45.3 per cent of the total sales while Japan’s Toyota, Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. accounted for 36.5 per cent.
The Toyota Corolla is the top-selling vehicle on the list, followed by the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Toyota Prius and the Toyota Camry. There is one SUV on the list, the Ford Escape, which also comes in a hybrid model that can get up to 32 miles per gallon. Six of the top-10 selling vehicles are built by foreign manufacturers, but most are built in North America.
Among states, Michigan has taken most advantage of the program, requesting more than $44 million in vehicle vouchers. California dealers had requested nearly $40 million in vouchers, and Ohio had sought nearly $38 million.
Senate passage would send the legislation to the White House for Obama’s signature and assure consumers there will be no interruption in the program that has led to packed car dealerships nationwide.
Republicans still were seeking changes that included capping the cost of the program or setting an end date for it, Thune said.
Democratic Sens. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Patrick Leahy of Vermont also voiced concerns, but no one was expected to try to block the bill’s passage.
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