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Other News: House to Add $2 Billion to Cash for Clunkers

July 31, 2009 at 1:11 PM EDT
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The House rushed to inject $2 billion into the cash for clunkers program, and the Associated Press reported that thousands of decaying bridges are suffering under the stimulus package.
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JIM LEHRER: In other news today, the U.S. House rushed to inject more money into the cash for clunkers auto program. It pays large subsidies to Americans who trade in old, gas-guzzling models for new, more efficient versions.

Judy Woodruff has our report.

AD NARRATOR: Check out the cars rebate system, better known as “cash for clunkers.”

JUDY WOODRUFF: The money that was supposed to last 12 weeks was almost gone after four days. Last night, “cash for clunkers” nearly cashed out. The $1 billion program is officially known as CARS, for Car Allowance Rebate System. It promised a $3,500 or $4,500 government voucher to car-buyers.

BOB CARSON: You know, I got $4,500 for this vehicle towards the purchase of a new F-150.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The idea: prop up the crippled auto industry and do some environmental good by scrapping some older vehicles that burn too much gas. Congress set aside the money last month, and the program began this past Monday.

CUSTOMER: It was too good of a deal to pass up.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Cars started flying off lots, but perhaps too quickly.

JIM WARREN, Alexandria, Virginia, Buick, Pontiac, GMC: We’ve seen people coming in who have had these cars, these clunkers since they were new.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jim Warren is a sales manager at a General Motors dealership outside Washington. He says up to 50 percent of recent buyers have been using the rebates.

JIM WARREN: After a long dry period in this business, Congress had finally done something right and come out with a program that got people into the showrooms and, more importantly, got them into the showrooms and buying the cars.

So the message to Congress is: You’ve gotten a lot of bad press recently. You need a win. This was that win. Don’t stop it right in the middle.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Today’s House vote authorized an emergency extension of the rebates. It set aside a further $2 billion under the stimulus plan passed earlier this year.

Michigan Democratic Congressman John Dingell is among the auto industry’s staunchest supporters.

REP. JOHN DINGELL, D-Mich.: CARS is providing a jolt, a meaningful, upward jolt to our economic recovery efforts.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The extension passed easily, but California Republican Jerry Lewis was one of 109 House members who voted against it.

REP. JERRY LEWIS, R-Calif.: Here we are today, shoveling another $2 billion out the door this fiscal year.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Besides the money issue, there were other concerns: a huge backlog in rebate filings with the government has led dealers to doubt if they will be reimbursed.

But White House officials promised the program will continue. The Senate will vote on the extension next week.

JIM LEHRER: It turns out another part of the government’s stimulus effort is slower-going. The Associated Press reported today thousands of decaying bridges are not being repaired. Instead, states are doing road-paving and other projects that can be finished quickly.

At a House hearing, Democrats and Republicans called for more work on bigger projects. Republican John Mica of Florida said officials need a “kick in the pants.”

REP. JOHN MICA, R-Fla.: You can’t tell me there isn’t a community from sea to shining sea that doesn’t need infrastructure improvements. And many of them need large projects.

But, unfortunately, the stimulus package is leaving the big projects behind. We want no bridge or no project of national significance, regional or community significance, left behind.

JIM LEHRER: So far, states have approved $17 billion in transportation stimulus work. Road work accounts for 70 percent of that total; bridge projects make up just 12 percent.

A key House committee worked into the evening to finish a Democratic health care bill. It made new concessions to Democratic liberals who objected to an earlier deal with conservatives. News accounts said the latest revisions would curb increases in the cost of health insurance and the government would negotiate for better drug prices under Medicare. The full House may vote in September.

Former Philippines President Corazon Aquino has died of colon cancer. Her family announced her passing today. Aquino led a people-power revolt in 1986 that forced out President Ferdinand Marcos. He had ruled for 20 years. Once in power, Aquino survived seven attempted coups in six years. At her death, she was 76 years old.