Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood adamantly declared today that the Cash for Clunkers program will continue, calling the initiative a "win, win" and stating his belief that the Senate will pass a bill before the program runs out of money this week.
"This program is going forward. I am confident the Senate will pass $2 billion and we will continue seamlessly for people to buy automobiles," Lahood said during a news conference. "We have enough money to continue. We encourage people to go into showrooms. This is a wildly popular program. I want people to go buy automobiles and the money will be there to be reimbursed by the dealer."
Following the lunch, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was confident the cash-strapped incentive program would have the votes to pass by the end of the week.
"We'll pass Cash for Clunkers," Reid said adding that it would be before the Senators leave for their August recess on Friday.
Following a lunch meeting with other Republicans, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted a vote by the end of the week, but declined to predict that the Senate will agree to refuel the program.
"Senator Reid and I will be starting to talk about how to process Cash for Clunkers... What we'll be negotiating over is the appropriateness of some amendments to the bill, but I would anticipate that the matter will be completed sometime before the end of the week," McConnell said.
During a news conference called to address the dangerous combo of driving and texting, LaHood answered questions about the measures the Department of Transportation plans to take to promote the Cash for Clunkers program.
"We're going to make ourselves available to any senator," said LaHood, who sent a letter to every senator offering to answer their questions about the program. "It's a two page letter that outlines the importance of this program, that it's a lifeline, that it's a wildly popular program and a lifeline to the automobile industry."
The transportation secretary said the program, as of today, has produced 157,000 transactions worth $664 million and "continues to show a 61 percent increase in fuel efficiency from the car traded in... 83 percent of the vehicles traded in were trucks and SUVs, and 60 percent of vehicles purchased were passenger cars."
LaHood described the Clunker program as a stimulus project that works.
"This is the one stimulus program that I believe as has been the most popular because the money gets out quickly. The car purchaser gets the money in the form of a rebate, the car dealer sells automobiles, car salesmen are flooded with people trying to buy automobiles and so, this is an extraordinary way to really give a boost to our economy," he said.
But, many senators remain unconvinced.
"Why not $4,500 for refrigerators or other businesses around my state?" asked Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. "So I just think that we have to be careful that we don't go too far with this program."
McCaskill also wants to know how much of the money is going to buy foreign cars.