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“Handouts for Hummers” runs out of bucks

Cash for Clunkers, the program that Sen. Diane Feinstein (D–Calif.) has pejoratively referred to as “Handouts for Hummers,” has likely blown through its $1 billion budget in its first official week. The funds, which provided $3,500 or more for Americans trading in old cars that got less than 18 miles per gallon for new ones with better gas mileage, were expected to last until November

Thursday night, White House Press Secretary Roberts Gibbs said the program had not been suspended, but the government was working “to assess the situation...auto dealers and consumers should have confidence that all valid...transactions that have taken place to date will be honored.”

As of this morning, car dealers reportedly are still not sure how much, if any, of the $1 billion will remain in government coffers once the Department of Transportation tallies up its figures. The bill gives consumers $3500 vouchers if they purchase vehicles with a 4 mpg improvement over their trade-ins, and it gives them $4500 if they purchase vehicles providing a 10 mpg improvement.

"We hope there's a will and a way to keep the program going a bit longer," General Motors said in a statement. "Any doubt that the program would jump-start auto sales is completely erased."

In a June editorial in the Wall Street Journal, Feinstein and Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R) complained about how their original Cash for Clunkers proposal was a win–win for the environment and the economy but was soon hijacked by Detroit auto industry lobbyists who helped author a rival bill. The House approved the latter legislation, which would subsidize the purchase of a new Hummer H3T that gets just 16 mpg, along with other gas-guzzling vehicles.

In a joint statement released yesterday, Feinstein, Collins, and Sen. Charles Schumer (D–N.Y.) suggested that an extensions of the program should have a fuel economy requirement at least two mpg higher than the original program and include vouchers for fuel efficient used vehicles. “We believe that any extension of the ‘Cash for Clunkers’ program must go further in advancing the goals of better fuel efficiency and greater emissions reductions. We will not support any bill that does not meet these goals.”

The clunkers pictured above, courtesy raffa080808 via Flickr, would probably not qualify for the program

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