- The Washington Times - Friday, August 28, 2009

U.S. autos clunk

Data from the government’s cash-for-clunkers program are in, and results show it took nearly 700,000 mostly American-made cars off the road and replaced them with lots of foreign vehicles.

Although most of the cars swapped for clunkers were foreign brands, proponents of the program point out that many foreign automakers have manufacturing plants in the United States, which they say will help “create or save” 42,000 jobs in the second half of 2009.

“American consumers and workers were the clear winners, thanks to the cash-for-clunkers program,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. “Manufacturing plans have added shifts and recalled workers. Moribund showrooms were brought back to life and consumers bought fuel-efficient cars that will save them money and improve the environment.”

To be eligible for the cash-for-clunkers program, which offered consumer rebates between $3,500 and $4,500 toward the purchase of a new car and ended Tuesday evening, consumers needed to swap an older car that got 18 miles per gallon or less for a newer, more fuel-efficient one. About 84 percent of consumers traded in trucks and 59 percent left with passenger vehicles.

“The program worked far better than anyone anticipated at moving consumers out of old, dirty trucks and SUVs and into more fuel-efficient cars,” the Department of Transportation said.

The most traded-in car was the Ford Explorer, and the most popular take-home vehicle was the Toyota Corolla.

The top 10 trade-in vehicles destroyed, as required by the program, were all American. Only two of the most popular take-home vehicles were.

The clunkers, beginning with the most traded-in: Ford Explorer 4WD, Ford F150 Pickup 2WD, Jeep Grand Cherokee 4WD, Ford Explorer 2WD, Dodge Caravan/Grand Caravan 2WD, Jeep Cherokee 4WD, Chevrolet Blazer 4WD, Chevrolet C1500 Pickup 2WD, Ford F150 Pickup 4WD and the Ford Windstar FWD Van.

The top 10 take-home cars, starting with the most popular were: Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Toyota Camry, Ford Focus FWD, Hyundai Elantra, Nissan Versa, Toyota Prius, Honda Accord, Honda Fit and the Ford Escape FWD.

Buyer’s remorse

A survey conducted of 1,000 cash-for-clunkers participants by CNW Market Research, which tracks consumer trends, found those consumers had a much higher rate of buyer’s remorse than other car purchasers.

Normally, people who buy new cars have a buyer’s remorse rate somewhere between 6 percent and 8 percent, says the research company. Under cash for clunkers, 17 percent had doubts about their purchase, mostly because they regretted taking on a new car payment of between $275 to $350 a month.

Cash for convicts

The head of the Social Security Administration is defending his agency’s decision to send checks to convicts.

The 2,200 people incarcerated in U.S. prisons who received $250 checks from President Obama’s stimulus bill drew widespread condemnation from fiscal hawks, such as Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican.

“Taxpayers already believe the inmates are running the asylum in Washington,” Mr. Coburn said. “Now it appears they are being compensated for their efforts.”

But Social Security Administration Commissioner Michael J. Astrue said in a statement provided to The Washington Times that his agency’s hands are tied.

Inmates are entitled under the law because “they were not in prison during one of the following months: November 2008, December 2008 or January 2009. The law specified that any beneficiary eligible for a Social Security benefit during one of those months was eligible for the recovery payment.”

A total of 3,900 of the $250 checks were sent to incarcerated persons, and most of them (2,200) were legitimate, he said. The remaining 1,700 checks that went to people who were in jail during the specified time in violation of the law will need to be recalled.

Mail call

Campaign finance regulators have cleared the way for a conservative fundraising group to contact people who donated to Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter while he was a member of the Republican Party to notify them of the offer he made to refund the money after becoming a Democrat.

The request to do so comes from the Club for Growth, which Patrick J. Toomey presided over until he left to run against Mr. Specter as a Republican for the Senate.

In his statement announcing his decision to leave the Republican Party last April, Mr. Specter said, “Upon request, I will return campaign contributions contributed during this cycle.” By sending the mailers reminding Mr. Specter’s previous donors of this offer, the Club can question his integrity as a party-switcher and if the donors do want their money back, drain some of his campaign funds.

FEC commissioners, by a vote of 4-2, issued an opinion Thursday to green-light the effort.

“Sen. Specter continues to face doubts about his loyalties, and I expect many of his donors will want their money back,” said Club Executive Director David Keating. “We hope to make it a little easier by informing them of the senator’s policy and providing an preprinted letter and envelope to request a refund.”

Amanda Carpenter can be reached at acarpenter@ washingtontimes.com

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