Commentary

The U.S. Senate will make a choice this week, either to keep cash-for-clunkers alive and support small businesses or unwittingly declare war on small business by killing the stimulus package, while righteously attesting to misguided, ill-informed ideals.

Some senators wasted no time lining up in front of the cameras to assert opposition to the stimulus package over the weekend.

For example, Sen. Jim DeMint’s attempts to use cash-for-clunkers administrative problems as an example of why the government would not be able to effectively manage its proposed health-care system were disingenuous and nothing more than a cheap political trick.

Ironically, the very problems he pointed to are the fault of fellow lawmakers and not a federal agency. It was Congress which gave the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. 30 days to create an unbelievably complicated program. What NHTSA pulled off is nothing short of heroic, despite the problems.

Not only did Congress not give the agency enough time to build a sound program, it complicated matters by instructing NHTSA to make sure no fraud occurred under the cash-for-clunkers program. That became one of the agency’s top goals, which ended up handcuffing dealers.

Most egregious is that Congress woefully underfunded the program. What was supposed to be $4 billion was reduced to $1 billion because Republicans and Democrats could not agree on whether the funding should come from existing or new stimulus money.

There was a simple solution that even a child could have come up with. Split the money down the middle – 50% from existing stimulus and 50% from new money.

The $2 billion the House approved last week is to come out of existing stimulus money, so it’s not adding to the debt of future generations. The money is already there.

Sen. John McCain, meanwhile, is threatening to filibuster this week to keep a vote from coming to the Senate floor. What about small businesses, which he so eloquently claimed to support during his run for U.S. president last year?

Cash-for-clunkers is all about small business. More than 20,000 dealers put their money and their businesses on the line last week, trusting the Congress. Some dealers have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in marketing and ordering extra inventory because they want to do their part in getting the economy rolling again.

And yes, they believed they would make money doing so. Nothing wrong with that. It’s called capitalism.

The insane success of cash-for-clunkers proves two things: First, small business drives the economy of this country. It was the dealers that made the program work. During the month of July, thousands of dealers built savvy marketing plans, trained their staff and readied their stores for what they hoped would be extraordinary success.

When the administrative problems reared their ugly head last week, dealers didn’t complain. Instead, they buckled down with their employees – many of them working around the clock to get the required paperwork submitted.

The second lesson is one most Republicans should be jumping all over. Cash-for-clunkers proves putting money into the hands of the people is what’s going to get us out of this recession.

Some Democratic senators, led by Sen. Diane Feinstein, are threatening to withhold their support of additional funding for cash-for-clunkers unless tougher fuel-economy standards are enacted. Adding that component to the mix now only will confuse consumers and dealers.

Senators seem to be forgetting cash-for-clunkers is about optimism, hard work and cooperation – the very ideals that are going to lift this country out of its economic malaise.

Will cash-for-clunkers do it alone? Of course not. But it’s a start, and a darn good one.

Senators need to step up and be the leaders they promised to be when elected. This is the time to put aside politics and grandstanding, and instead give this country the tools it needs to bring the economy back.

cbanks@wardsauto.com