4:57am

Sat September 24, 2011
Economy

Clean Car Loan Program Adds Fuel To Shutdown Fears

The once-rare possibility of a federal government shutdown has reared its head again, this time over House Republicans' desire to offset spending for disaster relief with money for other unrelated projects.

A clean-car loan program has become a key battleground. The House spending bill would take $1.5 billion from the program for disaster relief. Democrats say that would be a huge mistake.

The Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) program was created by Congress and President Bush in 2007. The program lends companies money to retool their plants to manufacture clean car technologies. It received bipartisan support, and according to the Department of Energy, it has saved or created 39,000 jobs — most of them at Ford.

The company's state-of-the-art Michigan Assembly Plant reopened in May with help from the loan program. It used to produce SUVs; now it's set up to assemble the Ford Focus.

"These retooling loans made it possible for Ford Motor Co. to save 1,900 jobs at their Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Mich., so they could build the all-new Ford Focus electric and the battery-electric Focus in America," said Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who represents Michigan.

Ford officials say 11 plants in five states benefited from the program. The company even moved a hybrid battery facility from Mexico to Michigan to take advantage of it.

Four other companies have received more than $2 billion in loans through the program so far.

Stabenow took to the Senate floor Friday to protest the proposed cuts.

"To me it is outrageous that the House of Representatives — Republicans in the House — have included a job-killing offset to pull the rug out from and put up to 50,000 American jobs at risk," she said.

That's not how House Republicans see it.

"We're doing everything that we can to find every dollar that we possibly can to ensure that our fellow Americans who are suffering due to these disasters are able to have the resources that are necessary," said Rep. David Dreier, whose district is in Southern California. "Of the $1.5 billion which is utilized in the offset, it's been sitting in the coffers for three years."

Dreier and other House Republicans insist that even disasters shouldn't get funding without cutting spending from somewhere else. They also say the ATVM program is a fine place to cut because the program has spent less than half of the $7.5 billion it received three years ago.

"So to act as if we somehow are going to see some great loss of jobs is, again, a mischaracterization of what is happening. We're establishing priorities," he said.

Dreier was one of more than a dozen Republicans who voted to cut funding to the program, yet also in recent years sent letters to the Department of Energy pushing for clean-car projects in their own states. The letter Dreier signed suggested a California company would create more than 2,300 jobs making lithium ion batteries if it got the money.

Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA) said on the House floor there are 18 loan applications in the pipeline now that could create another 50,000 jobs.

"Some of these jobs will be at risk because of this offset. This is not the time to put American manufacturing jobs at risk," Dicks said.

It's not just Democrats in Congress who are saying this. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to the House highlighting the value of the program. The National Association of Manufacturers sent letters, too. Chip Yost, a vice president for the association, said the group is trying to spread the word that it supports the program.

"We just think these are the kinds of programs and partnerships that work really well between business and government," he said, "and we think that this is a program that's in place, it's operational, and we'd like to see it continue to move forward."

Just how much money the loan program has going forward will depend on what happens in Congress next week.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, host: Now, as David mentioned, one key that struggle between Democrats and Republicans is a clean car loan program. The House bill supported by Republicans would money from the program to offset disaster spending. Democrats say that would be a huge mistake. NPR congressional reporter Tamara Keith has more.

TAMARA KEITH: The Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program was created by Congress and President Bush back in 2007. The program lends companies money to retool their plants to manufacture clean car technologies. It got bipartisan support, and according to the Department of Energy it has saved or created 39,000 jobs, most of them at Ford.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

KEITH: This is the company's state of the art Michigan Assembly Plant. It reopened in May of this year with help from the loan program. It used to produce SUVs. Now, it's set up to assemble the Ford Focus. Senator Debbie Stabenow represents Michigan.

Senator DEBBIE STABENOW: These retooling loans made it possible for Ford Motor Company to save 1,900 jobs at their Michigan Assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan so they could build the all new Ford Focus electric and the battery electric Focus in America.

KEITH: Ford officials say 11 plants in five states benefitted from the program. The company even moved a hybrid battery facility from Mexico to Michigan to take advantage of it. Four other companies have gotten more than two billion dollars in loans through the program so far. Stabenow took to the Senate floor yesterday to protest the proposed cuts.

STABENOW: To me, it is outrageous that the House of Representatives, the Republicans in House have included a job-killing offset to pull a rug out from and put up to 50,000 American jobs at risk.

KEITH: That's not how House Republicans see it. David Dreier's district is in Southern California.

Representative DAVID DREIER: We're doing everything that we can to find every dollar that we possibly can to insure that our fellow Americans who are suffering due to these disasters are able to have the resources that are necessary. Of the $1.5 billion, which is utilized in the offset, it's been sitting in the coffers for three years.

KEITH: Dreier and other House Republicans insist that even disasters shouldn't get funding without cutting spending from somewhere else. And they say this advanced vehicles technology program is a fine place to cut because the program has spent less than half of the seven-and-a-half billion dollars it got three years ago.

DREIER: So, to act as if somehow we're going to see some great loss of jobs is, again, a mischaracterization of what is happening. We're establishing priorities.

KEITH: Dreier was one of more than a dozen Republicans who voted to cut funding to the program, yet also in recent years sent letters to the Department of Energy pushing for clean car projects in their own states. The letter Dreier signed suggested a California company would create more than 2,300 jobs making lithium ion batteries if it got the money. Washington Democrat Norm Dicks said on the House floor there are 18 loan applications in the pipeline now that could create another 50,000 jobs.

Representative NORM DICKS: Some of these jobs will be at risk because of this offset. This is not the time to put American manufacturing jobs at risk.

KEITH: It's not just Democrats in Congress who are saying this. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to the House highlighting the value of the program. The National Association of Manufacturers sent letters too.

CHIP YOST: We're watching what's happening and trying very hard just to let people know that we think this is a good program.

KEITH: Chip Yost is a vice president at the Manufacturers Association.

YOST: We just think these are the kinds of programs and partnerships that work really well between business and government and we think that, you know, this is a program that's in place, that's operational and we'd like to see it continue to move forward.

KEITH: Just how much money the loan program has going forward will depend on what happens in Congress next week. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.