Clunkers = Analog TV, Cash = Coupons, Experience = Doubts

USA Today reports “House Democrats and the Obama administration have agreed on a compromise for a so-called cash-for-clunkers bill…Similar to European programs, the legislation — also called “fleet modernization” or “scrappage” — would provide federal vouchers of up to $4,500 for people to trade in their vehicles for new ones that get better mileage.”

There’s much to like in incentives to encourage vehicle purchases, especially the retiring of more-polluting cars and an immediate boost to the auto industry.

But Congress would do well to learn from experience, i.e., the DTV transition experience.

The Washington Post today reports on the continued problems afflicting the federally mandated transition from analog to digital TV, a switch originally set for February, now scheduled for June. “Digital TV Transition, Set for June, May Get Early Test” reports that the backlog of $40 coupons to buy digital converter boxes has been cleared up, thanks to $650 million for DTV transition included in the stimulus bill.

Yes, $650 million.

Critics of the digital TV postponement …[say] the delay was unnecessary, expensive — and possibly even a threat to public safety because emergency responders have been waiting to use a part of the wireless spectrum that broadcasters will soon vacate.

The more widespread complaint, however, has been the amount of money allocated to bolster the transition program.

“This is a $650 million mistake,” said Rep. Joe L. Barton (R-Tex.), who was an opponent of postponing the digital TV transition. If the transition program uses all of that money, “they’ve managed to spend $1,000 per household for a device that costs $50.”

Apply Rep. Barton’s calculations to vehicle vouchers, then auto coupons for $4,500 could wind up costing the taxpayers $90,000 each.

More from today’s news.

And Der Spiegel, “Car-Scrapping Plans — Germany’s Lessons“: “German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cash-for-clunkers scheme has boosted auto sales, saved factory jobs, and rid the roads of gas guzzlers. But the costs are high.”

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