'Clunkers' Rebates Could Last Through September

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Pressing colleagues to replenish the "cash-for-clunkers" program, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid warned lawmakers they might miss their August vacation takeoff plans Friday if they don't quickly pass the $2 billion measure.

"If we don't work something out on the cash for clunkers," Reid said from the Senate floor Wednesday morning, he would file motions to close debate. Under Senate procedure, that could mean votes on both Friday and Saturday, when lawmakers would otherwise be scattering for their coveted summer break.

"We all acknowledge there's a significant majority that want to move forward with this legislation," said Reid, D-Nev.

It was the senatorial version of a parents' warning to bickering children: Work it out, or the car will be turned around instantly.

There was every indication that lawmakers would extend the popular program, which offers car buyers rebates of up to $4,500 for trading in their gas-guzzlers for new, higher-mileage models.

Reid had said on Tuesday that he had the votes to pass a $2 billion extension already approved by the House, the amount President Barack Obama says is necessary to meet a surging demand that would otherwise deplete the program by Friday. He said Wednesday there are estimates that as many as 300,000 vehicles have been bought under the program.

Many Republicans oppose the plan -- and some Democrats have concerns as well. But none was predicting that any senator would block or delay a vote.

"The matter will be completed," said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

The funding would triple the cost of $1 billion rebate program and give as many as a half-million more Americans the chance to grab the new car incentives through September.

Car companies have credited the clunkers program with driving up sales in late July. Most consumers are buying smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles under the program, according to a list of the top-10 selling cars released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The list includes Honda Civics, Toyota Corollas and Dodge Calibers. The Toyota Prius hybrid, which gets 46 miles per gallon, according to EPA estimates, is the fourth-best-selling car. There is one SUV on the list, the Ford Escape, which also comes in a hybrid model that can get up to 32 miles per gallon. With the exception of the Prius, which is built in Japan, most of the top-selling vehicles on the list are built in North America. The Hyundai Elantra, the 8th top-selling vehicle, is built in South Korea, and the Honda Fit, the 9th top-selling vehicle, is made in Japan.

Senate passage would send the legislation to the White House for Obama's signature and assure consumers there will be no interruption in the program that has led to packed car dealerships nationwide.

Republicans still were seeking a chance to amend the House version. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said Republicans were considering a range of amendments that included placing a financial cap on the program or a date by when it must end, along with requests that it not drive up the federal deficit. He said it was still under discussion among Senate leaders.

Democratic Sens. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Patrick Leahy of Vermont also voiced concerns but opposition to extending the program had been dissipating all week.

The legislation would transfer $2 billion from an economic stimulus account that had been set aside to subsidize renewable energy. The new money would carry the program through September, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said.

Associated Press writers Stephen Manning and Joan Lowy in Washington and Tom Krisher in Detroit contributed to this report.

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