House moving quickly to get more cash for clunkers

House leaders plan on clearing a lifeline to the “cash for clunkers” auto trade-in program on Friday, which stunningly ran out of money on Thursday after less than two weeks in existence.

The House will move to pass a bill on Friday that would add $2 billion — double the initial amount — to the program. House members are set to adjourn on Friday for the August recess, and senators and the White House continue to hold discussions about how to maintain the program.

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The original $1 billion "cash for clunkers" program allowed consumers to trade in older cars for newer, more fuel-efficient vehicles. Auto companies and dealerships, along with strong support from auto-state lawmakers, backed the program, but had originally sought $4 billion from Congress.

Dealerships had lengthy waiting lists for the program and a number of sales — in which consumers were to receive a $4,000 to $5,000 rebate — were in the works but had not been completed.

Members of the Michigan congressional delegation scrambled last night to rally leading lawmakers and set a course of action for the House’s last day in session.

Those leaders acted quickly to put together a funding bill to add $2 billion to the program. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) plan to shoot the funding bill through the House on Friday afternoon, jumping quickly through procedural hurdles and allowing the House to leave before the day is over, as scheduled.

Industry sources say senators are working on similar legislation before the upper chamber recesses next week. The original bill set off a debate between auto-state senators hoping to provide support for the car industry, while senators from the East and West coasts had supported an alternative that had higher environmental standards.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), who had pressed the alternative bill, sent a letter on Friday to the Transportation Department asking for more detailed information about the "cash for clunkers" program and how it had run out of money.

"Congress needs this data in order to determine if the fleet modernization program delivered significant fuel economy gains and oil savings," they wrote.