Naturally, the right wing is furious.
It's bad enough that any government program could possibly work. That,
by itself is anathema. When the program was first proposed, right
wingers groused that such a promotion should be left to the private
sector. As I'm sure you know, no used car dealer has ever offered sale
prices, rebates, zero-interest loans or trade-in credits in order to
attract business. Never. All those “I'll stand on my head to make you a
deal” ads are a product of your imagination. There are numbers. You can
look them up.
It was a trickle up program, which meant money went to the middle class,
who promptly went out and spent it. Republicans firmly believe the rich
should be making all the financial decisions on behalf of the not-rich,
and don't like it when anyone steps in and gives those surly ingrates a
So Republicans grumped that the billion dollars forecast to be spent
over the next six months was a complete waste of taxpayer money, and put
the program on their list of Obama failures for use in the next
election. And, briefly, forgot about the relatively minor program.
In fairness, the Obama administration had no idea how successful the
program was going to be. That's why they only budgeted one billion, and
assumed it would take many months to use that up, in hopes that it would
add 150,000 trade-ins to a market that was all but paralyzed. Even that
modest goal was considered a significant boost.
Americans like cars. If you've had occasion to notice one of the 135
million or so cars around America, then you know that Americans like
cars, and the newer and showier the better. In retrospect, it's hard to
imagine that the program wouldn't get a lot of attention.
Word wildfired, and the program managers, to their amazement, found that
the funds for the program had been been depleted, not in six months, but
two weeks. They promptly notified Congress, and Democrats, realizing
they had a hot property, allocated another two billion. The last of that
is expected to be used up this weekend.
For right wingers, this is a disaster. Their vision of a vibrant economy
involves millionaires in limousines tossing bright shiny dimes to street
urchins. The people who own the GOP ride in the limos, and the voter
base hope to raise the urchins who are catching the dimes. It's the
But they can't let the success of the program stand, because that
challenges all their beliefs about matters economic and political. So
they've come up with an amazing list of objections.
First and foremost, there was the money. $3 billion is a gigantic sum of
money, and the poor, struggling taxpayer has more pressing problems
(like getting the clunker fixed) to worry about than subsidizing trade-ins.
Then there was the small scale of the program. Why, 457,000 cars is a
drop in the bucket! Over 13,000,000 cars are traded in, junked, sold and
fourth- and fifth- handed every year. Saving 216 million gallons a year
means nothing when over 168 million gallons a DAY are used! Obviously
the program was just economic tokenism! Missing from these complaints
was the common sense observation that the program was only as large as
The elitists of the GOP were outraged that only 0.15% of the population
would directly benefit from the program. When the GOP opposes luxury
taxes on yachts and inheritance taxes on $3 million estates, they aren't
looking out for the welfare of a tiny minority—they have everyone's
welfare at heart!
So they weren't amused when it was noted that everyone benefited from
lower demand for gasoline (which, in theory, should lower prices) and
cleaner air. They sneered that the program was too small to matter. As
if the luxury tax did.
Another complaint was that the money all went to Japan. The biggest
single beneficiary was Toyota, which makes its cars in the well-known
Japanese prefecture of Kentucky. Ford was a close second, although most
of the Fords were made in Canada, which, it must be admitted, is not
part of Japan. GM also benefited, enough so that they hired back 500
workers last week, the first sign of like in quite a while from that
Another whine went, “Cash for clunkers cost triple what was budgeted and
will end two months early. Only dumbass libs could consider it
successful.” I could just imagine this particular captain of industry
deciding not to carry a product in his store because it kept selling out
and he had to keep putting in special orders so he could have some in
stock. The wild success was a clear sign of failure.
One complaint did have some validity: “In the meantime it put thousands
of citizens back into debt.” Yes, it probably did. But until business
owners recognize that the ONLY way to get more money into the hands of
consumers will be by paying the employees better, that's the only option
for having money at hand to buy a car. Businesses have three choices:
extend credit, put money in the hands of consumers by paying employees
better, or go out of business. By far, the best option is the second.
Another complaint was that it took energy and caused pollution just to
make the new cars, and to scrap the old cars. One guy came up with a
long list of fuel consumed for each step of taking a clunker and
transporting it to a wrecking yard and scrapping it, but sort of blew
his own argument out of the water by claiming that they had to be
scrapped on location. In reality, the program has a detailed program for
salvaging and recycling the cars that have been turned in. I'm told, but
can't confirm, that GM already put a bid in for all the recycled steel
expected from the car remains that get crushed.
Another guy claimed that the program all but destroyed the used car
market by taking all the used cars off the market. As noted, about 13
million cars are resold each year, so there is a gap of less than 4% in
that market for this year. It's unlikely to create such a shortage that,
as this one guy claimed, used cars might end up costing more than new
cars. Worse, it would eliminate “choice” in the used car market, since
the shortage would be mostly among inefficient, pollution-belching
monsters, which is what every poor family wants.
One of the more disingenuous arguments Republicans used against the
luxury tax was that it impacted the livelihoods of people who sold
luxury yachts. It was a questionable assumption in any event, since
anyone who can afford a 60' yacht isn't going to worry about a 10% tax.
But the scale made the assumption ridiculous. There are perhaps two
dozen new yacht dealers in the entire country.
It was the Republican way of humanizing the rich man's tragedy. Don't
feel sorry for the billionaires—feel sorry for the servants!
They are trying the same gambit now. Now that the program has sucked all
the air out of the used car market (well, 4% of the air, anyway), used
car dealers will begin dropping like flies. One guy made the claim the
dealers were being stiffed by the government on the rebates, buttressing
it with the even stranger claim that dealers financed their sales based
on FIVE-DAY notes from the bank. Five day loans are usually only seen on
the Sopranos and at paycheck cashing places. It's one of the more
nonsensical claims made.
Finally, there's those poor auto mechanics. Now that all the clunkers
are gone (at least 4% of this year's crop), auto mechanics will be
dropping like flies. New cars are less expensive to run than old cars,
and never mind that it benefits the people who own the cars—think of
poor old Bert the mechanic, struggling to live on $85 an hour and having
to rely on the 100,000,000+ clunkers on the road that haven't shuddered
and died yet. Poor Bert. Maybe the Republicans will propose a government
program to help him. Assuming, of course, that Bert isn't in the working
class. Maybe Senator Ensign can come up with a “Jesus For Clunkers”
program whereby the GOP will offer tax rebates to churches willing to
mention Republican cars in their weekly service prayers.
In the meantime, the program worked.
And the GOP is livid and a bit panicked about that.