WASHINGTON — Car shoppers could take advantage of government incentives worth up to $4,500 this summer to send their old gas guzzler to the scrap heap in favor of a more fuel-efficient new vehicle.
President Barack Obama is expected to sign into law the “cash for clunkers” program, which was approved by the Senate on Thursday. A clunker is an old, worn out car. For owners of low gas mileage vehicles, the plan could give them a reason to visit their local car dealer during an economic downturn.
“I”ve been sitting on the fence for about a year,” said Jim Seegraves, 44, who has been looking to replace his 2000 GMC Sierra pickup truck. “This legislation will help me get over the hump and get the car that I want.”
The bill provides $1 billion for the auto sales program from July through November and the Congressional Budget Office expects that with a total of $4 billion, about 1 million new vehicles could be purchased. The government is expected to implement the program by early August.
The new vehicle can be U.S. or foreign-built and must have a manufacturer”s suggested retail price of less than $45,000.
Automkers and their unions have lobbied heavily for the incentives to help the auto industry boost sales and stabilize General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Group LLC, which have received billions of dollars for government-led bankruptcies. In May, U.S. auto sales were 34 percent lower than a year ago and the industry expects to sell less than 10 million vehicles in the U.S. in 2009, compared to more than 16 million in 2007.
Budget-conscious Republicans opposed it, along with environmental-leaning lawmakers who said it failed to encourage the purchase of high-mileage cars and did not apply to used vehicles.
GOP Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi voted against the car-buying incentive because of its costs.
“The original cash for clunkers proposal would have been paid for by using some of the unspent stimulus funds. I regret that the final version of the bill funded the program through additional deficit spending,” Wicker said in a statement issued by his office.
Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi voted for the program.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill earlier this month with the support of Rep. Travis Childers of Mississippi”s 1st Congressional District.
“This significant piece of legislation will spur the sale of up to one million more fuel-efficient cars and trucks nationwide. It will allow hard-working north Mississippians to save money on the purchase of both new cars and gas, while benefiting car dealers and helping people keep their jobs,” the Democratic lawmaker said in a statement issued by his office.
Also voting for the bill was Democrat Bennie Thompson of Mississippi”s 2nd Congressional District. Voting against the bill were Republicans Gregg Harper of the 3rd District and Gene Taylor of the 4th District.
Dispatch state Capitol reporter John Mott Coffey contributed to this article.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.