David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau
Washington — The Transportation Department is preparing to suspend the $1 billion “Cash for Clunkers” program at midnight, industry officials and congressional aides said Thursday.
Bailey Wood, a spokesman for the National Automobile Dealers Association, said the group believes the program would be suspended at the end of Thursday.
“This is the responsible thing to do,” said Wood, who believed that all deals consummated by the end of today would be honored by the program.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called key members of Congress to notify them that the government’s program to stimulate car and truck sales was being tapped out — less than one week after it kicked off. Officials were holding meetings looking for ways to continue the program, but that was unlikely.
Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, who called on congressional leaders Wednesday to boost funding, called for emergency action.
“There can be no doubt that the Cash for Clunkers program is a complete success given the fact that the entire $1 billion allocated to the program was expended in less than a week. This is simply the most stimulative $1 billion the federal government has spent during the entire economic downturn. The federal government must come up with more money, immediately, to keep this program going,” Miller said.
“Whether we look at returned TARP funds or reprogram stimulus funds to a truly stimulative purpose, the administration must take action,” she said.
A spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said she would study the results before deciding whether to seek more funds. But the House is set to adjourn Friday, making it unlikely Congress will be able to act before they return from recess after Labor Day.
The Michigan congressional delegation held an emergency call on the news at 7 p.m. and planned a meeting Friday morning to look at ways to try to extend the program.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which administers the program, had estimated about 250,000 vehicles would qualify for buyer incentives of up to $4,500. The program, intended to boost sales and convince Americans to trade in old vehicles for more fuel-efficient models, was set to last until Nov. 1 — or until the money was spent.
Proponents originally sought $4 billion, but settled for $1 billion when Congress approved it in June.
General Motors Co. spokesman Greg Martin urged Congress to try to find a way to extend the program.
“Any doubt that the CARS program would jumpstart auto sales is completely erased. The line between cost and benefit usually doesn’t get much clearer in these types of programs,” Martin said. “In this case, more than 200,000 cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars are on the road and a vital industry gets a needed boost. We hope there’s a will and way to keep the CARS program going a little bit longer.”