Did John McCain blink on Cash for Clunkers?

Last Friday, lots of tough talk about filibuster. But by Tuesday, the GOP had all but declared surrender

Published August 4, 2009 11:19PM (EDT)

Last Friday, when the Cash for Clunkers program appeared on the verge of running out of money, numerous media outlets reported that Sen. John McCain had declared he would lead a filibuster against any effort by the Senate to pass additional funding. Other Republican senators, including "freedom fighter" Jim DeMint, made similar noises about how they intended to "slow it down."

Actions speak louder than words, however. On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that there would be no filibuster. A vote is scheduled for later this week, and passage of an additional $2 billion in funding is virtually certain.

Popularity counts, even with the Party of No. And attempting to stop an effective stimulus program that consumers, car dealers and auto manufacturers all love and that may even result in marginal environmental benefits, would be political suicide, even for the self-immolating-happy GOP. So, no filibuster, this week.

However, after a closer examination, I'm wondering whether McCain ever really threatened a filibuster.

Most news outlets sourced their reports by saying McCain had told Fox News that he planned to lead a filibuster. But here's what Fox News originally reported. (Italics mine.)

When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, tries to take up the House-passed "Cash for Clunkers" bill next week, he will hit a series of bipartisan road blocks.

Fox has learned that Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, will oppose any move to take up the House bill. Around here, we call that a filibuster.

McCain told Fox earlier today, "I not only wouldn't vote for the extra two billion, I was opposed to the initial billion.

"Around here, we call that a filibuster?" Huh? I'm guessing there's more than a little bit of projection at work here on the part of Fox News. I'm sure Fox would love to see Republican senators filibustering the Obama agenda, but to the point of putting words in McCain's mouth? That's aggressive journalism!

(In related news, for a  cogent look at the economics and environmental implications of Cash for Clunkers, you can't do better than Justin Fox's summary this afternoon at the Curious Capitalist.)

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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