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AP: Senate votes to help Americans buy cars

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“I believe we can help by getting the consumer into the showroom.”
— Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)

To give you an idea at just how difficult it will be to make any significant change in the American transportation paradigm, here’s the latest in the ever-changing saga of President Obama’s economic stimulus bill (via the Associated Press, emphasis mine):

The Senate voted Tuesday to give a tax break to new car buyers, setting aside bipartisan concerns over the size of an economic stimulus bill with a price tag edging above $900 billion. The 71-26 vote came as President Barack Obama said he lies awake nights worrying about the economy and signaled he’ll try to knock out “buy American” provisions in the legislation to avoid a possible trade war.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski led the successful effort to allow many car buyers to claim an income tax deduction for sales taxes paid on new autos and interest payments on car loans.

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She said the plan would aid the beleaguered automobile industry as well as create jobs at a time the economy is losing them at a rapid rate. “I believe we can help by getting the consumer into the showroom,” she said.

Democratic leaders have pledged to have the bill ready for his signature by mid-month, and in a round of network television interviews, the president underscored the urgency. He told CNN that even three months ago, most economists would not have predicted the economy was “in as bad of a situation as we are in right now.”

The American auto industry is hurting badly. They have already received billions in government assistance and they continue to shutter dealerships, close factories, and buy out workers. Americans, it seems, are finally beginning to realize that — despite what years of marketing has been telling them — it is possible to live on a low-car diet.

Our car culture is emptying American bank accounts, encouraging sprawl, hurting our planet, and making us less healthy. Is making car-buying easier really a smart way forward? Is it good economic policy to promote car ownership? What if we took those tax credits and put toward improving bus service or used them to help fund more bikeways?

And then there’s this story from MSN about GM and Chrysler essentially suing taxpayers with taxpayer money.

What’s next? Free cars for all Americans just to keep the auto parts and service industry alive?

[For transportation related goings-on in the stimulus bill, stay tuned to and The Transport Politic.]