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Cash for Clunkers’ Looks for Support

Correction Appended

Two of the Senate’s more vocal critics of the popular “cash for clunkers— legislation switched gears Monday in favor of the plan, but it remains unclear when the measure will come to the floor this week.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), who had concerns about how effective the program will be at reducing gasoline consumption and increasing auto sales, instead came out with glowing words following a briefing with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Monday.

“The good news is that apparently more people are buying [fuel] efficient vehicles,— Feinstein said, noting that 60 percent of all cars purchased are low-emission sedans. “The best solution is to continue and extend the program.—

Collins and Feinstein sponsored a separate car measure last month that included tougher fuel efficiency standards for new car purchases under the program, and they were promised any extension of the current program would reflect their legislation.

While the two endorsed approving more funds for the program, GOP-led opposition could slow the process down to getting the House bill to the floor.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who opposed the original $1 billion for the program included in last month’s war supplemental package, pulled back Monday from a filibuster threat of the House-backed measure if it comes up this week. Still, McCain said he “strongly opposed— the bill.

But in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,— Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) lashed out against the extension and pledged to work against the bill.

“This is crazy to try to rush this thing through again while they’re trying to rush through health care and they want to get on to a cap-and-trade electricity tax,— DeMint said. “We’ve got to slow this thing down.—

In a press conference Monday, Collins indicated Republican leaders would work with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) this week to “figure out how to proceed— on the $2 billion measure that was quickly approved by the House last week after funds for the program ran out in just one week.

Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) indicated the two sides could reach consensus to consider the bill if at least 60 Members support it.

Schumer, Feinstein and Collins all agreed Monday that at least that many Members were in favor of the program, which was approved in June as part of the emergency war supplemental appropriations bill.

Feinstein and Collins said they wanted to pay for the program with unspent stimulus money. At a press conference Monday, the three said the Senate should revisit how to pay for the program.

The Majority Leader did not rule out filing cloture or working over the weekend to pass the bill, although he refused to offer a timeline. “I’m willing to delay the recess for health care, all kinds of things,— Reid told reporters Monday. “It’s easier said than done,— he added. Reid spokesman Jim Manley said the clunkers vote would likely take place before Thursday’s vote on the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood took to the television airwaves Monday to push for the program’s extension. And President Barack Obama will host a luncheon with Democratic Senators at the White House today in part to woo the caucus to pass the House-backed measure.

The Senate must pass an appropriations bill and vote on Sotomayor’s nomination before adjourning Friday for their long-anticipated August break.

Reid also hopes to resuscitate a travel promotion bill that was defeated in June. If passed, it would give the Nevada lawmaker a major legislative victory to tout back home over the recess.

Correction: Aug. 4, 2009

The article misstated how the program passed. It was attached to the emergency war supplemental appropriations bill.