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August 6, 2009

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'Clunkers' win Senate support

THE United States Senate has cleared the way for a vote extending the "cash-for-clunkers" program, which offers car buyers rebates of up to US$4,500 for trading in their gas guzzlers for new, higher-mileage models, setting aside Republican opposition to the plan.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Tuesday he had the votes to pass a US$2 billion extension already approved by the House. The funding would triple the cost of the US$1 billion rebate program and give as many as 500,000 more Americans the chance to grab the new car incentives through early September.

Many Republicans oppose the plan but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted his party would not block a vote. "The matter will be completed," McConnell said.

Lawmakers hoped for a vote either late last night or early today.

Senate passage would send the legislation to the White House for President Barack Obama's signature and assure consumers there will be no interruption in the program that has led to packed car dealerships around the nation.

Vice President Joe Biden called the program "an unqualified success."

"I think it would be hard to tell the thousands of people who have just traded in gas guzzlers for more efficient cars that this is having no impact," he said.

Republicans still were seeking a chance to amend the House version, but Democrats were confident the bill wouldn't be changed. Senate changes to the program would require another vote by the House, which is in a month-long summer recess.

The White House says that without new funding, the program will run out of money by tomorrow, which is when the Senate begins its own August break.

"Anybody who supports 'cash for clunkers' certainly can't support amending the bill because then we will lose the program" until the fall, said Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat from Michigan, where the Big 3 US auto makers are based.

"We'll pass 'cash for clunkers' before we leave here," Reid said after Democrats lunched at the White House with Obama, who has vigorously pushed the extension as a much-needed boost for the economy. Asked whether he had the votes to pass the measure, Reid said: "Yes."


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