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Cash-for-Clunkers Plan Still in the Ditch


Feinstein, Collins don't accept House compromise.

US Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, of California, and Republican Senator Susan Collins, of Maine, lament that politics in Washington have ruined a good idea.

The senators introduced a bill patterned on successful "cash for clunkers" measures in California and Texas. It encourages drivers to trade in their old, inefficient, and polluting vehicles for newer models that get better gas mileage.

The Feinstein-Collins measure would allow drivers to ditch their gas-guzzlers in exchange for vouchers valued at as much as $4,500 toward the purchase of vehicles with better fuel economy. But gadzooks -- the House version didn't work out that way.

In the Wall Street Journal, the senators said:

"On Tuesday, the House approved this legislation, which would subsidize the purchase of a new Hummer H3T (16 mpg) or a new Dodge Ram 1500 4x4 truck (15 mpg), but not a 2-year-old Ford Focus (27 mpg) or used Chevy Colorado (20 mpg). A companion bill is pending in the Senate ... The bill being pushed by the auto industry is simply bad policy."

Golly, you mean politics shapes policy in Washington?

This seems like an odd epiphany for a couple of politicians -- and good ones -- who have made a career out of inserting their policy preferences into bills. But let's think: If the government is going to run General Motors (GRM), shouldn't we expect that politics will trump the market (which is a highfalutin way of saying the individual preferences of consumers), and that government will often work at cross-purposes?

American car-buyers have long shown a preference for cars much bigger than the lawnmower-sized "green" vehicles Washington thinks everyone should drive -- and for good reason: They're convenient -- especially for families with kids -- and they're safer in a crash. You'll note, of course, that politicians are routinely chauffeured around town in sub-compacts.

But never mind. The 2 senators are miffed because the evil US auto industry, now an appendage of the government, wants to sell cars with decent profit margins so it can get back on its feet.

Today's study question: How much does Toyota (TM) make on the sale of each Prius? Is it possible that Honda (HMC) pushes its new hybrid to meet Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards so it can make money on larger cars?

Hate to ask, but where's the Constitutional authority for any of this? Apparently, Senators Feinstein and Collins, like many in Washington, recognize no limits to government as long as it's for a cause they deem worthy.

Well, here's another: Many of us who sit in front of a computer all day -- or who knows, yak in the US Senate for a living -- tend to get a little thick between the pockets. Come to think of it, "computer," "Congress," and "corpulent" all begin with "c." (You can add "conspiracy" to the list, too.) Therefore, we need a federal program aimed specifically at those who pound a keyboard or talk all day. Let's call it the "See Your Toes When You Stand Up Act of 2009."

This means you, Senators.
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