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Cash for Clunkers Update: Senate Debate, Vote on Extension Tonight

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cash-for-clunkers-cars-logoSenators racing to refill the cash for clunkers coffers are coming into the home stretch today. Just a few days ago, Obama administration officials warned that vouchers under the program, which provides rebates of up to $4,500 for qualifying old gas guzzlers when they’re traded in for more fuel-efficient new vehicles, could end as early as Tuesday if the Senate didn’t follow the House in tripling the cash for clunkers funding.

Well, the vouchers have continued to roll out this week, but there’s another looming deadline: If a vote doesn’t happen this week, it will wait until the Senate returns from recess in September. And if that vote turns out to be anything but a rubber stamp of the House version of the bill, then the extension won’t go into effect until after both chambers of Congress return from their breaks and negotiate a compromise version.

Given what an expensive way cash for clunkers is for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (by the AP’s calculations, the program’s initial $1 billion can deliver emission reductions equivalent to only about an hour’s worth of emissions in the U.S.), we’re not sure it would be such a bad thing to take more time to weigh the effectiveness of the program and debate ways to improve it. But according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, legislators struck a deal late yesterday to consider seven amendments (for 30 minutes each) before voting on the extension tonight.

Reid’s aides have told reporters that all of the amendments — which include proposals to set income limits on the program (only individuals earning less than $50,000 or joint filers earning less than $75,000 would be allowed to participate), add a requirement for the government to sell off its stakes in General Motors (s GM) and Chrysler, and set an expiration date for the troubled asset relief program, or TARP — are likely to fall flat.

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