The House of Representatives had just passed the so-called “Cash for Clunkers” bill — a proposal on which Bay Ridge’s freshman Rep. Mike McMahon played a small, but key, role — so it was time again for the latest installment of our popular feature, “McMahon on Line 1.”
First off, the bill: As the name suggests, the bill, which passed on Tuesday in a 298–119 vote, would give taxpayers a $3,500 to $4,500 tax credit for trading in a car for a more fuel-efficient model.
As the name fails to suggest, the car doesn’t need to be a clunker — just a gas-guzzler. Trade-ins must get 18 miles per gallon or less to be eligible, but just a four mile-per-gallon increase in fuel economy (which is like shooting fish in a barrel, though with an environmentally safe gun, hopefully), gets the owner a $3,500 credit.
A 10-mpg increase gets you the full $4,500.
This sounded a lot like a way of rewarding Hummer drivers who have buyer’s remorse every time they fill up (twice a day, no doubt), so we got McMahon on the horn to explain the bill.
“It’s a two-pronged approach to dealing with the economy and the environment,” he said. “It’s a classic win-win. We’re stimulating the car market with new purchase and at the same time decreasing emissions.”
We still thought it sounded like a handout.
“But it will also stimulate the economy,” McMahon said. “We’re creating jobs in factories and getting the market going. It’ll provide the impetus to get people to buy a new car.”
Then, ever the German speaker, McMahon threw out the ultimate trump card: the Europeans did it.
“In Germany, they had a similar program and they could not produce enough cars to meet demand,” he said.
We pointed out that in Germany, drivers have another big incentive for reducing their consumption of fuel: it costs $6 a gallon. And Germans needed to trade in a real clunker — at least nine years old — not merely go from 18 mpg to 22 to get a cool $3,500.
On a personal level, McMahon played a small role in getting the bill to the floor. Originally, it was part of a much larger energy bill that isn’t going to be moved until the fall. Several freshmen legislators — and, remember, McMahon is the freshman class whip — convinced Speaker Nancy Pelosi to make “Cash for Clunkers” its own bill.
“The process was good,” he said. “We made it go faster.”
McMahon said he has not decided whether to trade in his 2003 Honda Odyssey.
“It gets in the 18- to 23-mile-per-gallon range, so that’s pretty good,” he said.