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Cash for Clunkers 2: The Return of Government Motors

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Ready for another cash for clunkers program? It looks like General Motors is attempting to replace it’s own consumer incentives with tax payer money. The car company, bailed out of bankruptcy in 2009 by the American tax payer, appears to be turning the government into an automatic rebate provider.

The Obama administration and their friends on Capitol Hill are floating around a proposal to change the $7500 tax credit for green vehicles. This change can be found not only in President Barack Obama’s budget but also a bill proposed by Senator Debbie Stabenow, Michigan Democrat.

Edmunds.com, a 45 year old trade magazine company that provides automotive information, posted a Department of Energy document listing the department’s funding highlights. The proposed Obama Budget, changes the existing $7,500 electric vehicle tax credit “into a rebate that will be available to all consumers immediately at the point of sale.”

According to Senator Stabenow’s website, her proposed legislation, known as the “Charging America Forward Act” (S.298), “will provide consumers with a rebate worth up to $7500 for plug-in electric vehicles at the time of purchase.”

Essentially, if one were to buy a $41,000 Chevy Volt, the buyer gets a $7,500 coupon, so the final price is $33,500. In the end, the auto dealer assumes the risk of the government giving them this tax credit.

It is pretty convenient that Ms. Stabenow, who represents a state where GM is headquartered is pushing a bill that is also supported by Edison Electric Institute, whose president was loaned a Chevy Volt, Eaton Corp: the sole American producer of car recharge systems, and Battery Electric Vehicle Coalition, a lobbying group for the electric car industry.

In fact, Department of Energy’s David Sandalow told Bloomberg News in February the insta-credit would operate the “same way the 2009 ‘Cash for Clunkers’ program worked.”

The Detroit News reported Vice President Joe Biden said at an Indiana battery assembly plant, “You won’t have to wait,’ it would be like the cash-for-clunkers program.”

GM is likely the most excited about this instant credit plan. “General Motors supports the instant credit saying the bill “integrates all of the components necessary for successful acceleration of electric vehicles in the marketplace,” The Detroit News reported.

Is the United States really prepared to deal with another tax payer paid for deal that will only benefit the now government owned GM? After all, did Cash for Clunkers part one really work out for the tax payers and auto dealers? Washington, D.C. based organization Americans for Tax Reform  didn’t think so and wrote in late October of 2009:

The program began on July 24th with a budget of $1 billion and by July 30th they were out of money. Giving people “free” money to buy cars is definitely popular. Congress then allocated another $2 billion that lasted almost until the end of August. That’s right, $3 billion in under a month. The program didn’t help the economy or auto industry. Despite a bump in the 3rd quarter to GDP and auto sales, consumer spending dropped 0.5% in September and the vehicle output bump was artificial and unsustainable, meaning it will drop off considerably in the next quarter as the market stabilizes to its real level. As Nick Gillespie and Veronique de Rugy pointed out today over at Reason, even the reported GDP bump is misleading, because is includes government spending. So if government spending increases it will increase the GDP, but that doesn’t mean any more was produced.

There are also the unseen costs of this program. By encouraging people to junk older vehicles, they lowered the supply of cheap used cars. When you lower supply and keep demand stable, the price goes up. With fewer used cars on the market, the prices for remaining used cars increases. This will make it more difficult for younger drivers or low income drivers to buy cars to get to work or school. (A video by Congressman Ron Paul further explains how it hurts the poor here.) At least the wealthy got a handout to buy their brand new cars though right?

Unfortunately, when ideas turn bad, it does not preclude another similar bad idea to be proposed later on.

 

 

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