White House To Senate: Act On Cash For Clunkers White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on Monday warned that the popular "cash-for-clunkers" program will have to end if the U.S. Senate does not increase the funding this week. Dealers around the country are frustrated by the confusion about what happens next.
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White House To Senate: Act On Cash For Clunkers

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White House To Senate: Act On Cash For Clunkers

White House To Senate: Act On Cash For Clunkers

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand in California.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block in Washington.

The White House today pressured the Senate to approve more money for the cash for clunkers program. That's the government program that gives rebates to car buyers if they trade in their old cars for new, more fuel-efficient models. The program is almost out of money. The House has approved $2 billion more, but some senators are reluctant to go along.

As NPR's Adam Hochberg reports, the uncertainty is frustrating car dealers.

(Soundbite of car dealership)

ADAM HOCHBERG: At Crossroads Ford in Cary, North Carolina, there's a small group of cars accumulating along the back wall of the showroom. Sales manager Eric Kaplan says he has customers ready to buy them, but it literally will take an act of Congress to close the deals.

Mr. ERIC KAPLAN (Sales Manager, Crossroads Ford): Yeah, there's just three Focuses here. And so we're just holding the cars right here until we get Congress approval that we have the money.

HOCHBERG: That's money for the cash for clunkers rebates that were part of the trade-in deals for these cars. They all were tentatively sold this morning. But because of the uncertainty over whether Congress will continue to fund the clunkers program, Kaplan says he can't yet take the customers' money, accept their trade-ins or let them drive away in their new cars.

Mr. KAPLAN: We've done the paperwork that where we've taken the car off the market and the car is theirs - pending funding. So it's kind of like a suspended deal. We kind of think of the fun part of the car buying experience is getting in the car and driving away in the new car. These people will have some delayed gratification on that. Well, more important to them is that they're getting either $3,500 or $4,500, that's what they want to be assured of.

HOCHBERG: Kaplan says the clunkers program helped him sell more than 75 cars and trucks in the past week as he took in clunkers such as an 18-year-old Cadillac and a 1992 Bronco with more than 300,000 miles. And Kaplan says he's mystified that there's any controversy in the Senate over whether to put more money into the initiative.

Mr. KAPLAN: I don't know how anybody would vote against something like this that's working. You know, yet they'll throw money out there for banks and companies, you know, and then they end up paying big bonuses to executives. I mean, it just don't make any sense to me. This is flat working.

HOCHBERG: Much of the concern about the proposed extension of the program is coming from Senate Republicans. Senator John McCain has argued the initiative is too expensive. While GOP leader Mitch McConnell criticized the push to add $2 billion to the program before - in McConnell's words - anybody's had time to figure out what happened to the first billion.

But at the White House, spokesman Robert Gibbs described cash for clunkers as a success and urged senators to approve the additional funding by the end of the week, so the program can continue into September.

Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (Spokesman, White House): It's good for consumers, it's good for dealers and auto manufacturers. It's good for our energy, security and our environment.

(Soundbite of loudspeaker)

Unidentified Man: (unintelligible) pick up line one. (unintelligible) pick up line one.

HOCHBERG: Today around the country, consumers trying to take advantage of the program were getting different responses at different places. While some dealers were only making tentative sales, others were willing to finalize clunker trade-ins. At Champion Toyota in Austin, Texas, sales manager Ben Bennatt was still welcoming clunker deals today.

Mr. BEN BENNATT (Sales Manager, Champion Toyota): We are still as of right this second. However, it is subject to change by the second an email comes across the wire. So, if it doesn't pass the Senate, probably there will be an email that will come out and say either cease and desist or roll through today and then don't do any more until we hear. And that's kind of been the flow on a daily basis.

HOCHBERG: Bennatt says he sold more than 100 cars under the program, meaning his dealership is waiting for almost a half million dollars in government rebates. That's a situation he admits is unnerving as the funding uncertainty continues. But he says he's confident the government will come through with the money.

Adam Hochberg, NPR News.

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