WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. congressional Democrats are considering fast-tracking legislation to boost auto sales by offering Americans vouchers to trade in older, less fuel-efficient vehicles for ones that get better mileage, a congressional aide said on Thursday.
The legislation, known as “cash for clunkers,” would be added to a pending war funding measure in Congress, but “no final decisions have been made” despite wide support for the voucher program, said Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The war funding bill is a must-pass spending bill that is largely for U.S. forces operating in Afghanistan and Iraq. Adding the car program would speed the voucher measure’s enactment into law.
Lawmakers have been trying to find new ways to spur auto sales as two of the big three U.S. automakers are in bankruptcy protection, Chrysler LLC and General Motors. President Barack Obama has urged Congress to approve a voucher program.
The Senate proposal would provide up to $4,500 in vouchers to car buyers who participate in the program.
New cars must get at least 22 miles per gallon, while sport utilities and pickups — the biggest sellers for U.S. manufacturers — must achieve at least 18 mpg. Vehicles priced at over $45,000 are not eligible.
Leading auto manufacturers also support the plan, a similar version of which has been working its way through the House of Representatives. The program would be in place for a year and proponents hope it would facilitate about 1 million new car purchases.
The overall war funding measure, potentially costing $100 billion, has gotten bogged down partly due to other issues like how to deal with the 240 detainees being held at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, congressional aides said.
Democrats who control the House and Senate have been trying to work out the differences in the two versions of the bill they each have passed. They had hoped to wrap up final details on Thursday but that will not likely happen until next week.
Lawmakers have already rejected Obama’s request for $80 million to begin the process of shuttering the facility and moving terrorism suspects to other locations.
As Obama tries to fulfill his promise to close the prison by January 2010, the White House and lawmakers are squabbling over whether the detainees can be brought to U.S. soil.
The House approved its version of the bill that limits Obama from moving the detainees into the United States until two months after submitting to Congress a plan for dealing with them.
The Senate voted to bar the Obama administration from releasing or transferring them to U.S. soil through September 30. The White House has been pushing for the House version but Senate Republicans have balked at that, according to congressional aides.
House Republicans have also been upset at provisions in the bill that extend a $100 billion credit line to the International Monetary Fund, fulfilling a pledge by Obama to the lender as it tries to help developing countries cope with the global economic crisis.
Editing by Peter Cooney