08.06.09

Statement On Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Program “Cash For Clunkers”

Mr. President, I would like to make some observations about the Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Program, more commonly known as cash for clunkers.

When Congress first passed this program in June, I evaluated the merits and the arguments and chose to support it, because I believed it would provide a prompt shot in the arm to our ailing economy.  I continue to believe that the program's goals of reducing the environmental impact of automobiles on the road and producing economic stimulus are good ones.

However as we debate whether to infuse this program with another $2 billion I would urge that we be patient and wait until all the facts are in, before rushing forward with a tripling of the program's overall cost.  Significant claims have been made about the average increased fuel economy and resulting financial savings that will result from car purchases made through the program.  The administration has used these claims to push for the program's expansion, yet Federal agencies have not yet made available--to the American people and to the Congress--the appropriate data to support these claims.

If you have picked up a newspaper in the past few weeks, the sudden popularity of the program is clear.  Newspaper headlines have consistently noted the program is rapidly running out of money and that car purchases are well above where they were at this time last year.  In my own State of Vermont, car dealers have reported having difficulty keeping up with demand for new cars that meet the program's requirements.  But while we know that cars are moving off sales lots and onto the road, we have yet to receive enough details about the current sales data to know the true story of whether this program is working as intended.

Recent reports on the program have indicated that funding was about to run out, yet the number of actual car sales through the program was far lower than the program allowed for.  Further, many dealers have noted that hundreds of thousands of dollars in program vouchers from the government have yet to be paid.  If this is in fact the case, we should demand that the management of this program be ironed out before pumping billions more into it.  Are we sure that this the best way to spend $2 billion right now, if it is to be spent?  There are many worthy and pressing purposes to which such significant sums could be allocated.

Positive indications about the direction of the economy are emerging.  Today we learned that the number of Americans filing for unemployment dropped to its lowest level since January.  The Cash for Clunkers Program may prove to be a factor in helping our country emerge from this recession, and I certainly hope that is the case.

But the public release of information about this car rebate program is necessary to ensure that both the Congress and the American people can make well-informed judgments about the merits of continuing this program in these economically challenging times.  If the administration is unwilling or unable to provide this information before the Senate votes on additional funding, I will be unable to support the program's expansion.

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