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Andy Ostroy

Andy Ostroy

Posted: August 4, 2009 09:26 AM

Can We Trade in Our Republican Senate Clunkers?


It seems this is how the typical political discourse in Washington occurs these days:

Democrats: We have this great idea that...
Republicans: NO!
Democrats: But if we....
Republicans: NO!
Democrats: How about if...
Republicans: NO!
Democrats: Or we....
Republicans: NO!
Democrats: It'll be good for....
Republicans: NO! NO! NO! Don't you get it? Whatever you push for, no matter how good it is for the country and for Americans, we're gonna oppose it because it's in our own selfish interests to undermine President Obama, the economy, health care and everything else on the administration's agenda because the 2010 midterms are right around the corner and we want to take back the controls.

Case in point, the government's "cash for clunkers" recession-busting program, which gives rebates of $3500-$4500 to anyone trading in an old heap for a new, more energy-efficient car. The initiative was such a hit with spending-starved consumers in July that Ford posted its first quarterly profit in two years, and others including GM, Chrysler and Toyota saw significant sales increases over June. Dealers reported selling 250,000 automobiles, a pace not seen since before the recession began. So successful was the program that the government blew through its initial $1 billion budget, and has gone back to Congress to request an additional $2 billion to keep it going. The House approved the measure last week, and now it rests with the highly partisan Senate.

2009-08-04-CashForClunkers.jpg

So let's analyze this: the government is helping drive (pun intended) consumers to make big-ticket purchases, which in turn is clearly reviving an anemic auto industry, which in turn could result in a ripple effect throughout Detroit and ultimately create jobs and help aid the nation's financial recovery. Sounds like a perfect, spot-on strategy to inject some much-need life into the ailing economy, right? Well, not if you're a Republican who cares more about getting re-elected and winning back Congress than fixing the economy and helping Americans get back on their feet.

The beauty of the cash-for-clunkers program is that it's an inarguable success. It's working exactly as the administration envisioned, and the results are clear, factual and impossible to dispute. But when asked about it, and if they'll support it, Republicans offer up the most lame excuses.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) on Monday criticized Obama for underestimating the program's popularity because he initially only earmarked $1 billion to fund it. So let's get this straight: Obama screwed up because the program is a huge success! Ya gotta love the Republicans' convoluted logic. Other talking point criticisms are that while the program's successful, it's "mortgaging our children's future" and/or is taking away critical stimulus money from more worthy programs.

But the simple truth is this: Republicans don't give a crap about the unemployed, the uninsured, the economy and making this country financially healthy again. To the contrary, it's in their political best interest to root for failure. To wish the economy further turmoil, to have greater unemployment, to have Detroit go bankrupt, and to generally just get voters so angry and fed up that they'll vote Republican again. But Americans are starting to get encouraged by all the positive signs in the economy, and that could ultimately make them happy again. And happy will not equate to GOP votes come November 2010.

What the cash-for-clunkers program has clearly demonstrated is that there's tremendous pent-up demand among consumers, as evidenced by the record 7 percent savings rate and the program's success in loosening those purse-strings. While there are indeed millions of Americans unfortunately without jobs and living hand to mouth, there are still plenty of people with money and this program is helping them spend it, which in turn is helping lift the economy. Senate Republicans need to lay down their partisan swords and act responsibly here by passing an additional $2 billion funding measure.