This vote was on passing a bill that would provide $2 billion for the popular “Cash for Clunkers” program, which gives vouchers to people to trade in older, less fuel-efficient cars for newer, more fuel-efficient ones. The voucher is worth $4,500 toward the purchase of a qualifying vehicle. In order to pay for the bill, money would be transferred from the Energy Department’s innovative technologies loan guarantee program. The Democratic leadership said the innovative technologies loan guarantee program money would be replaced later.
Russ Feingold, D-Wis., echoed many supporters in saying that the program has been a success, boosting new car sales, injecting cash into local economies and also taking the worst polluting cars off the streets.
“Interest in CARS has far exceeded most initial expectations for the program. Despite some problems with implementation of the program, it should be temporarily extended to help ensure that Americans who still want to participate in the program can do so, and that deals which have already been made in reliance on the program can go through. At the same time, I hope the Department of Transportation will listen to the concerns from car dealers and consumers and make improvements to help ensure CARS operates more smoothly in the coming weeks,” Feingold said.
Republicans spent most of the debate attempting to whittle down the amount of money the program would allocate, or to force Democrats to come up with a different way to pay for the infusion of cash. All Republican amendments were unsuccessful.
Tom Coburn, R-Okla., summed up many Republicans’ concerns by saying: “I would be a whole lot more comfortable with this bill if you could tell me another one isn’t coming in a month.” Coburn also argued that while the program is arguably stimulative, it does not have a net stimulus effect because all it does is speed up the timetable upon which people purchase cars, rather than necessarily increasing the number of cars that would ultimately be purchased.
By a vote of 60-37, the Senate passed the bill. All but four Democrats present voted for the bill. Of Republicans present, seven voted for the bill and 33 voted against it. The end result is that the Senate passed a bill that would add $2 billion to the popular “Cash for Clunkers” trade-in program.