WASHINGTON — The Obama administration tried to regain control of the cash-for-clunkers program Friday, rushing a $2-billion refueling through the House and reassuring buyers and dealers that the plan to spur new car sales was still alive.
But the administration couldn’t say how long the program would last or whether it could accurately track how many deals were being made. That sent buyers scrambling to dealerships Friday to swap their guzzlers for new cars and trucks before the program runs out of gas.
While the bill loaded with fresh incentive cash swept through the House in hours, the bar will be much higher in the Senate next week. At least five senators expressed some opposition Friday, with a key Democrat vowing to fight any new money that didn’t come with tougher fuel economy rules.
President Barack Obama and Michigan lawmakers will have next week to get the Senate’s sign-off for the money before it adjourns for a month. Despite the concerns, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs suggested there would be nothing wrong if dealerships looked like the bank run scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
The deals are “good for the economy, and we feel confident that there’s money to cover those transactions,” he said.
Democrats from Obama on down seized the news Friday that the cash-for-clunkers plan had burned through $950 million as a sign that at least one economic stimulus plan was working far better than expected.
On the same day that he warned of continuing job losses even as the recession eases, the president said the cash-for-clunkers program had succeeded "well beyond our expectations."
In less than a day, the administration convinced the U.S. House to shift $2 billion from another part of the $787-billion economic recovery plan, a move the Senate is to consider next week."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," Obama said.