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House refuels 'clunkers'


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POSTED: Saturday, August 01, 2009

WASHINGTON » Attention, car buyers: There's still time to get in on the “;Cash for Clunkers”; rebate rush.

The House hastened to refuel the program yesterday, voting to pour in $2 billion to prop up the trade-in deals that have all but overwhelmed suddenly booming car dealers and exhausted the $1 billion the government had set aside.

The Senate has yet to act, but the White House said weekend deals would count, no matter what.

The program, only a week old, was designed to encourage owners of pollution-spewing gas guzzlers to trade them in on new, more efficient cars, helping the hard-pressed auto industry and the environment, too. Enticed by rebates of $3,500 to $4,500, owners are jumping at the offer.

“;Consumers have spoken with their wallets,”; declared Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

House members approved the measure 316-109 within hours of learning from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that the program was already running out of money. The Senate is expected to take up the measure next week, but the White House would not make any promises for deals beyond the weekend.

President Barack Obama praised the House's quick work, saying the program had “;succeeded well beyond our expectations and all expectations, and we're already seeing a dramatic increase in showroom traffic at local car dealers.”;

Press secretary Robert Gibbs sought to assure consumers that the program would be alive at least a couple of days longer.

“;If you were planning on going to buy a car this weekend, using this program, this program continues to run,”; he said.

Senate approval for the extra $2 billion seemed less certain.

John McEleney, chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association, said many dealers have been confused about whether the program would be extended and for how long.

Many had stopped offering the deals Thursday after word came out that the federal money had been exhausted.

Called the Car Allowance Rebate System, or CARS, the program is designed to get old, polluting vehicles off the road and scrapped while helping car dealers pull out of the recession.

The program was funded to provide incentives for up to 250,000 new cars.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said about 40,000 vehicle sales had been completed through the program, and dealers estimated they were trying to complete transactions on an additional 200,000 vehicles, leaving the funding in doubt.