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Sens. Cantwell and Murray Split on Tax Breaks for Car Buyers

By Chris Kissel February 4, 2009

A U.S. Senate amendment that would give $11.5 billion worth of income tax breaks to car buyers was added to the economic stimulus package yesterday. Ironically, an amendment for more transit money—sponsored by Washington Sen. Patty Murray —was defeated.

Now for the double irony: Sen. Murray voted Yes on the tax break for car buyers.  Sen. Maria Cantwell voted against the car buyer amendment, which passed 71-26. Cantwell, who has been voting by her populist principles lately by rejecting corporate goodies , was one of 17 Democrats who joined 9 Republicans in voting against the measure.

The bill creates a tax break for consumers who purchase vehicles that are valued at over $49,000—vehicles that, Cantwell's office said, tend to be larger and less efficient than most cheaper vehicles.

"[Sen. Cantwell] would rather see a tax credit go to customers who are purchasing... more fuel-efficient vehicles," Cantwell spokesperson Ciaran Clayton told PubliCola.

The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) aims to help keep the "Big Three" U.S. automakers afloat by convincing consumers to buy more cars. The government has already poured billions of dollars into the industry in recent months, including $17 billion recently given to General Motors and Chrysler.

"[The amendment] is targeted at saving American jobs and helping families buy the cars they need to get to work and take their kids to school," Mikulski said in a statement.

Sen. Murray's office didn't return a call to explain her vote.

UPDATE: Sen. Murray’s office called back today to address Murray’s vote.  ”The auto industry is hurting,” Murray spokeswoman Alex Glass says, “and this was one way to help our auto industry.”

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