Republican leaders tried to kill the cash for clunkers bill. (Flickr photo)
I was just on public radio in Seattle, and the host wanted to know what I thought about the "Cash for Clunkers" bill that just passed both houses of Congress and is headed for President Obama's desk and a certain signature.
I think it's great, and we in the media have a big job ahead: Getting people to understand it and cash in. You see, you can get a $4,500 voucher-- not a tax rebate, a voucher that's the equivalent of cash -- if you trade in your 18-mpg or worse gas guzzler. It's good for a car or truck that gets at least 10-mpg better mileage than the old one. If the car is at least four mpg better, then the voucher is worth $3,500.
This legislation -- attacked by Congressional Republicans in a knee-jerk effort -- could nonetheless be better. It's better in Germany, for instance, because it's better funded (even though the individual rebates aren't quite as big). The Germans have used cash for clunkers to kick-start auto sales 20% last February. People favor small cars in Europe already, but many of the Germans trading in guzzlers bought even smaller cars instead. Over there, the clunkers program is part of a package that also places smart carbon emission taxes (up to $1,000) on larger cars. Getting that passed in the U.S., even with a Democratic Congress, will be difficult.
The problem with CARS (Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save) is the limited $1 billion funding and the July 1 to November 1 window to grab a piece of it. If you want fed assistance to buy your next green car, apply now, because it won't last long.
The legislation was originally introduced by Rust Belt Rep. Betty Sutton (D-OH), and her version was pretty bad, especially because it showed favoritism to American-made cars. Yes, these bills are designed to help Detroit, but the Big Three just don't make all that many fuel-efficient cars -- certainly they've never been able to effectively counter the splendors of the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.
As passed, the bill has good incentives, but it should go further -- I'd like to see the $4,500 rebate for 15-mpg improvements. That's eminently doable: few people actually need gas guzzlers.
As I said, people need to act fast to grab their share of the $1 billion. There's a cash for clunkers online headquarters that has considerably more than you want to know about the whole thing.
Cash for clunkers has even got celebrities! Though how big on the celeb totem pole are Angelica Vale from Ugly Betty and Cristian de la Fuente from Dancing With the Stars? They say that the program will help Hispanic-American communities dependent on the auto industry, and they're right, it will.
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