As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, July 31, 2009

Wildly Successful Government Program

Americans have been conditioned by wingnut rhetoric into believing that government cannot possibly work well. I think that ought to be contradicted by the success of the Cash For Clunkers program, which leveraged $4-5 billion into the economy in seven days, got consumers spending again on big-ticket items, and improved fuel efficiency on 250,000 cars well above expectations (preliminary Congressional reports show a 69% increase in fuel efficiency - most people are trading in SUVs with 100,000 miles or more on them for solid passenger cars). The program is working so well that Congress wants to continue it.

Congress is moving quickly to save the depleted cash-for-clunkers program, as the House passed a $2 billion spending measure Friday afternoon that would keep alive a program that has encouraged American car owners to trade in their old gas guzzlers for more fuel efficient vehicles.

Despite some criticism from Republicans who called the legislation another bailout for another industry, the bill easily passed on a 316-109 bipartisan vote.

Under the fast-track bill, Democratic leaders will use funds from a renewable energy loan guarantee included in the stimulus. The bill would extend the program through Sept. 30, 2010. Democrats have portrayed the run on cash for clunkers cash as a great success for the $1 billion program, which allows car owners to turn in older, less fuel efficient cars for a $4,500 rebate to purchase higher gas mileage vehicles.

These are the same Republican stooges who complained that GM and Chrysler were shutting down too many auto dealers. Now the government designs a program that massively helps dealers, achieves fuel efficiency and with a small investment gets a lot of economic activity going, and they scream "bailout." Hypocrites. There's also the fact that this is not even new money, but money already in the stimulus package. They're also whining that the dealers haven't been paid yet, even though the program kicked off a WEEK ago. Apparently they all receive their paychecks instantly for all work they perform.

Sadly, too many people see a government program run out of money and think it failed. No, that means demand was so high that it fulfilled its purpose in a matter of days. I see Claire McCaskill rejecting the idea of "subsidizing auto purchases forever." Apparently "forever"=anything more than one week.

We still have a tough economy. The recession has leveled off into something approaching stagnation. And there is compelling evidence that the stimulus package is responsible for even getting us back to the stagnation point. Consumers still aren't spending and a lot of people still have no job. Until businesses start hiring again government needs to drive economic activity, which is why you're seeing second stimulus packages proposed in the form of extending measures from the initial stimulus.

Except lots of those extensions revolve around corporate tax breaks and not things that put money into the economy. Things like Cash for Clunkers. And Democrats ought to tell the story that this successful government program, going deliberately and directly to Main Street, represents our best hope for economic recovery.

UPDATE: Obama said this today:

Now, one of the steps we've taken to boost our economy is an initiative known as "Cash for Clunkers." Basically, this allows folks to trade in their older, less fuel-efficient cars for credits that go towards buying fewer, more -- newer, more fuel-efficient cars. This gives consumers a break, reduces dangerous carbon pollution and our dependence on foreign oil, and strengthens the American auto industry. Not more than a few weeks ago, there were skeptics who weren't sure that this "Cash for Clunkers" program would work. But I'm happy to report that it has succeeded well beyond our expectations and all expectations, and we're already seeing a dramatic increase in showroom traffic at local car dealers.

It's working so well that there are legitimate concerns that the funds in this program might soon be exhausted. So we're now working with Congress on a bipartisan solution to ensure that the program can continue for everyone out there who's still looking to make a trade. And I'm encouraged that Republicans and Democrats in the House are working to pass legislation today that would use some Recovery Act funding to keep this program going -- funding that we would work to replace down the road. Thanks to quick bipartisan responses, we're doing everything possible to continue this program and to continue helping consumers and the auto industry contribute to our recovery.

So I'm very pleased with the progress that's been made in the House today on the "Cash for Clunkers" program. I am guardedly optimistic about the direction that our economy is going. But we've got a lot more work to do. And I want to make sure that all the Americans out there who are still struggling because they're out of work or not having enough work know that this administration will not rest until the movement that we're seeing on the business side starts translating into jobs for those people and their families.

Absolutely true. Democrats don't accentuate enough positives.

UPDATE: McCaskill backtracks, says she would consider using existing fund for C4C, wants to study program's effectiveness.

UPDATE: Enviro-blogger Adam Siegel, a critic of the C4C program initially, has some thoughts, conceding that the program is working very well but suggesting some tweaks. The best critique of the program is that it props up the car culture, which I don't doubt, but people with 140,000 miles on their Hyundai SUVs probably aren't candidates for biking or the subway, and what's more, this is a successful economic program with definable environmental benefits, not vice-versa.

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