Do we really want the federal government helping taxpayers buy new cars from American car companies on the brink of going under? That idea is driving the so called “cash for clunkers” bill the House is expected to approve today with bipartisan support.
Presented as a way to accelerate automotive fuel saving and lower oil consumption, as well as prop up domestic automakers, the Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Act (CARS, get it?) would provide vouchers up to $4500 for people to buy or lease a new and more fuel efficient vehicle than one traded in. Those trade-ins would then simply be scrapped and good for little more than electric arc furnace steelmaking and filling landfills.
This despite the fiscal cost to taxpayers and the fact that many Americans struggling to stay financially afloat in the recession will be encouraged to spend money they don’t have to replace what in many cases is sure to be a perfectly fine automobile. Is that really conservation, much less the sort of personal financial planning lawmakers should be encouraging?
With House Democratic leaders expected to attach the measure to the pending war supplemental spending bill before it heads to a House-Senate conference, one could normally hope the more deliberate Senate would block the measure. After all, it is being driven by the same sort of misplaced populism that drove the House to approve and then abandoned a measure hitting AIG employee bonuses with a constitutionally-unsound higher tax rate.
But with Senate Interior-Environmental Appropriations Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., pushing her own version of the measure that would make the miles per gallon rating threshold for trade-ins 17 MPG instead of the House’s 18 MPG, the effort is unlikely to die in the Senate.
There are clear parochial interests at stake with Ohio Democratic Rep. Betty Sutton lead sponsor of the bill. Even Republicans who should know better but have manufacturing interests to think of are co-sponsoring the measure, including Reps. Steve. LaTourette of Ohio, Joe Barton of Texas, and Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan.
The cost to taxpayers? That remains to be seen but Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and backer of the concept, has estimated that the Senate version would cost between $3 billion to $4 billion in stimulus package funding. Proponents argue that this means it won’t add to the federal deficit because that money will be spent no matter what. That is cold comfort since spending money we don’t have is still spending.
Of course, when Americans go out and buy a new Toyota or Hyundai instead of a Chrysler or Chevy, flailing American automakers and their downstream suppliers may not get the boost their protectors in Congress are clearly hoping to provide. Maybe at least some of those part suppliers are making tire rods for Japanese and Korean cars made in Tennessee and Alabama.