WASHINGTON (AP) — With the "cash for clunkers" program essentially running on fumes, the Obama administration served notice on the Senate that it must pour in $2 billion more to keep it on track.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood set the latest policy marker for the popular car-purchase program, saying Sunday that he thought the existing $1 billion pool would be exhausted by the end of the weekend.
Only the Senate can help at this point; the House last Friday voted for the money to be put into the popular program, and the House members have left on their summer recess. The Senate is scheduled to start its vacation by week's end.
"If we don't get the $2 billion from the Senate ... we would have to suspend the program next week," LaHood told C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" show. He said the administration "will continue the program until we see what the Senate does and I believe the Senate will pass this."
"Any deal that is made (Monday) or the next day and that is in the pipeline, ... the dealer will be reimbursed and the car buyer will be reimbursed," the secretary declared.At least one GOP senator questioned the need to speed the money.
"This is crazy to try to rush this thing through again while they're trying to rush through health care, and they want to get on to cap and trade electricity tax," said Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. "We've got to slow this thing down."
Obama officials scrambled last week to add money to the Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS), which is designed to get old, polluting vehicles off the road and scrapped while helping car dealers emerge from the recession. The $1 billion has led to the sale of 250,000 new vehicles.
Owners of gas-guzzlers can receive rebates of $3,500 or $4,500 toward the purchase of a new fuel-efficient car. LaHood said 62% of the traded-in vehicles were trucks and "these people are buying cars that get much better gas mileage."
The program helped lift Ford Motor Co. to its first monthly sales increase in two years, the company's top sales analyst said Sunday.
July sales results mark the first year-over-year gain for Ford since November 2007 and apparently the first uptick by any of the six biggest carmakers since last August, George Pipas said.