I was not a big fan of the final version of “Cash for Clunkers” because its mileage improvement requirements were so inadequate, as Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) explained here.

But in the real world, the public has mostly turned in gas-guzzlers in exchange for fuel-efficient cars – which perhaps should not have been a total surprise since oil prices are rising, gas guzzlers remain a tough resell in the used car market, and most fuel-efficient cars are much cheaper than SUVs.  In fact, the AP reports:

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the average mileage of new vehicles purchased through the program is 9.6 miles per gallon higher than for the vehicles traded in for scrap. Buyers of new cars and trucks that get 10 mpg better than their trade-ins get the $4,500 rebate. People whose cars get between 4 mpg and 10 mpg better fuel efficiency qualify for a smaller $3,500 rebate.

LaHood said some 80 percent of the traded-in vehicles are pickups or SUVs, meaning many gas-guzzlers are being taken off the road. The Ford Focus is a leading replacement vehicle. General Motors Co., Chrysler Group LLC and Ford accounted for 47 percent of the new vehicles purchased.

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A 9 mpg gain translates into annual savings of 3.8 million barrels of oil per year and nearly $1,000 for consumers at the pump — not to mention that it will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 660,000 metric tons a year.  Okay, not a cost-effective emission reducer, but still, given the multiple benefits of the program, pretty darn good.

Indeed, the environmental gain is even greater because the trade-ins are not resold to the public or shipped to the developing world – but recycled.

The economic gain in this depressed economy and even more depressed auto market are pretty big for such a small program:

Ford said its July sales rose 1.6 percent in July from the same month last year, its first year-over-year increase since November 2007, while Chrysler Group LLC posted a smaller year-over-year sales drop compared with recent months, helped by “clunkers” deals. Other automakers showed gains, giving ammunition to supporters of the car rebate program.

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But the Senate GOP, of course, opposes all government programs no matter how successful (see The Audacity of Nope: The GOP channels Groucho Marx, “Whatever it is, I’m against it”):

Senate Republicans appeared to be in no hurry.

“We were told this program would last for several months,” GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said. “It ran out of money in a week, prompting the House to rush a $2 billion extension before anybody even had time to figure out what happened to the first billion.”

Yes, the GOP argument is that it’s too damn popular a government program, so we have to figure out how to slow it down long enough to kill it.

McConnell said, “It’s not a bad idea to look for a second opinion. All the more so if they say they’re in a hurry.”

Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican, suggested lawmakers “take a time-out” so they could receive more details about the program before providing more money. “I’m concerned that somebody’s going to have to pay for this….”

Uhh, yes.  Someone has to pay for  successful government programs….

Unlike conservatives, who can’t be moved by the evidence, even the moderate Dem skeptic Feinstein has been persuaded by the data and program success:

“The best solution is to continue and extend the program as it is,” Feinstein said. “The program appears to be running very well.”

The bottom line is that the program seems to be a shot in the arm for the auto industry, while achieving better energy and environmental gains than expected.  Senate conservatives will bloviate, but I can’t imagine them being dumb enough to filibuster it.