'Tweets' show changing view of 'cash-for-clunkers' debate

WASHINGTON — It's been four days and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) is still talking about cash for clunkers.

Tweeting, actually.

When the popular auto trade-in program looked like it was down to its last federally subsidized rebate Friday, and the House wanted to toss over another couple of billion dollars, McCaskill put her foot down.

"I will vote no on any extension of Cash for Clunkers program," she tweeted her 30,000 followers, the key word being "any."

But that was not the end of it.

Forty-four minutes later, she underscored her opposition to the extension when it got to the Senate. Too expensive, she said.

"Idea was to prime the pump, not subsidize auto purchases forever," she pecked out, well within the 140 Twitter character limit.

Nine minutes later, still more: "a billion of your $ is a lot."

Another 22 minutes went by. Apparently, the rabble in the McCaskill Twitterosphere felt pretty strongly about the program. Cash for clunkers pays subsidies of up to $4,500 for old cars to enable their owners to buy new ones with better gas mileage. But the $1 billion that Congress expected to last through the end of year barely made it through the week.

Clearly McCaskill had touched a nerve. She began to brake, then downshifted to nuance.

"I will consider using EXISTING stimulus $ that has already been appropriated to finish up cash for clunker program,” she said in her next post. "No new $.”

And so it went, a fascinating window onto how the rules of the game in political communication are changing.

In her next tweet 20 minutes later, the Missouri lawmaker said she wanted to study the $2 billion extension that the House passed Friday. The door to her office that more cash for clunkers money was never going to darken was now ajar.

On Monday, McCaskill, in character-saving Twitter-ese, repeated her line in the sand: "No NEW spending for cash for clunkrs. May support it if it is $ already appropriated for stimulus. Want to see #s & how they’re gonna to cut it off.”

Stay tuned.