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Senate passes 'cash-for-guzzlers' bill; Obama likely to sign

Rafay Ansar

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The U.S. Senate passed a scaled-back $1 billion cash-for-guzzlers bill and sent it to President Barack Obama for his expected signature.

The 91-5 vote took place after 5 p.m. Thursday, after the Senate beat back a Republican attempt to strip the auto proposal from a $106 billion spending package aimed primarily at aiding U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The $1 billion initiative that passed the House earlier this week seeks to boost auto sales and increase the fuel economy of U.S. cars and light trucks. It would offer $3,500 to $4,500 cash vouchers for about 3½ months to consumers who trade in their cars for new, more fuel-efficient vehicles.

"This program will provide a much-needed boost to the struggling auto industry, including manufacturers, dealers, suppliers and other related industries," Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said on the Senate floor Thursday. It also will "encourage consumers to purchase more fuel-efficient vehicles," he said.

Congressional Budget Office data suggest the bill would result in the sale of 150,000 new cars, said Nichole Francis Reynolds, chief of staff to Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Ohio. Sutton sponsored the original bill.

Similar programs in Germany, China and France have resulted in substantial sales increases since the end of 2008.

Obama had fought hard for the bill, which passed by a 226-202 vote in the House.

The program would go into effect a month after the president signs the bill and extend until Nov. 1, Reynolds said. Sutton plans to try to resurrect the measure as a longer-term program in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, she said.

The current bill was pared back from a one-year, $4 billion program after some senators expressed concern that the measure would not do enough to assure a more fuel-efficient fleet.

Earlier Thursday, the Senate voted 60-36, largely along party lines, to defeat an effort by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., to remove the car-swap provision from the $106 billion supplemental spending bill.

Gregg, in his floor statements, questioned the relevance of the bill to the larger package of assistance to U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also said that the $1 billion program was "totally unpaid for," an assertion challenged by the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii.
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