Ensign opposes, Reid supports Sotomayor

WASHINGTON — The Senate last week confirmed Sonia Sotomayor as the third woman and first Hispanic to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sotomayor, 55, became the 111th high court justice in a 68-31 vote.

The elevation of President Barack Obama’s nominee seemed never in doubt in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Sotomayor, a judge on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, won votes from nine Republicans along with 57 Democrats and two independents.

Supporters pointed to Sotomayor’s credentials as an appeals court judge and as a trial judge and federal prosecutor before that. They also publicized her as an “American success story” who was raised in a New York public housing project by a single mother.

Critics questioned Sotomayor’s objectivity and predicted she would be an “activist judge” set to make law rather than interpret it.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., voted to confirm Sotomayor. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., voted against confirmation.

‘CASH FOR CLUNKERS’ PROGRAM REPLENISHED WITH $2 BILLION

Before leaving on a four-week recess, the Senate voted 60-37 to spend another $2 billion on the popular “cash for clunkers” program that offers rebates up to $4,500 to motorists who trade in “gas guzzlers” for new vehicles that get better mileage.

The vote to refill the program came after Congress was told it was running out of its initial $1 billion allocation just days after it was initiated. President Barack Obama signed into law the bill that will extend the program into Labor Day.

Supporters said the Car Allowance Rebate System, as the program is formally known, has accounted for the sale of more than 245,000 new cars so far, a welcome boost to automakers and car dealers.

“This is a program that has been working,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

Critics said the $2 billion was deepening the budget deficit while singling out one industry for special subsidies.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the program was not creating jobs.

“It merely transfers money to one taxpayer’s pocket from somebody else’s,” he said. “Yes, we all like free money. So the program has gone out of control.”

Reid voted to extend the “cash for clunkers” program. Ensign voted against the extension.

CLUNKERS FOR CHARITY REJECTED

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., proposed that cars traded in under the auto rebate program be donated to charity rather than destroyed.

“What you do is turn around and use the cars by giving them to charitable organizations or families who need them,” Coburn said. Later, he said: “It is crazy, in this country, to intentionally destroy perfectly good automobiles. It is nuts. It is not rational.”

Stabenow said Coburn’s amendment would defeat one of the purposes of “cash for clunkers,” which is to improve the environment by getting inefficient gas mileage vehicles off the road.

“There is no environmental benefit if the old vehicle is not scrapped,” Stabenow said.

Coburn’s amendment was killed, 41-56. Ensign voted for it, while Reid voted against it.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault @stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.

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