By Corey Boles
Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES
WASHINGTON -(Dow Jones)- The push in the Senate to approve a $2 billion extension of the popular "Cash for Clunkers" program could prevent Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., from bringing up a bill aimed at boosting the flow of foreign tourist dollars into the U.S.
The perceived urgency in extending the popular and economically stimulative clunkers scheme may leave no time in the crowded Senate schedule this week to turn to the Travel Promotion Act, according to several Senate aides.
Senators are due to leave town for a month-long summer recess at the end of the week.
The non-controversial bill would create a not-for-profit corporation to raise the profile of the U.S. as a vacation spot internationally.
It would have been a similar body to entities many other countries have to compete for lucrative tourist dollars. Democrats said it would have created tens of thousands of jobs and raised several hundred million dollars in taxes for the federal government over the next decade.
Reid has championed the bill as a measure to attract foreign visitors. The fact that he is facing a potentially tough re-election campaign in Nevada next year at a time when Las Vegas is suffering acutely due to the economic downturn almost certainly explains, at least in part, his enthusiasm for the legislation.
"It has to be frustrating, but it would have been harder for him if he put aside cash for clunkers to have the Senate deal with his bill," said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at the non-partisan Cook Political Report.
If the bill doesn't get voted on before the end of the week, it will be the second time this summer that Reid has been thwarted in his attempt to drive the legislation forward.
And this comes despite the fact that it enjoys broad bipartisan support with several Republican co-sponsors.
In June, the bill was defeated on a procedural vote after lawmakers failed to agree on amendments that would be voted on alongside the tourism legislation.
At that time, Republicans rejected an offer from Reid that would have allowed them to have up to five votes on any issue they wanted in exchange for a vote on one Democratic measure which sought to crack down on excessive speculation in the oil futures markets.
Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., an independent lawmaker who generally votes with the Democrats, wanted to provide the Commodity Futures Trading Commission with additional powers to use to prevent speculators from driving up the price of crude oil as Sanders suspects they did last summer.
Republicans refused, and the underlying tourism bill was voted down.
This time around, Reid was set to bring forward the tourism bill after the Senate holds a confirmation vote on Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court, expected late Wednesday or Thursday.
But due to the fact that the clunkers scheme looks to have exhausted the $1 billion allocated to it after one week, lawmakers are under significant pressure to increase funding to allow the program to continue through the summer.
The program, which gives vouchers of up to $4,500 to people who trade in gas guzzlers for new, more fuel-efficient vehicles, has been the primary reason behind a sharp spike in car sales over the last week.
The Senate is likely to debate and vote the extra clunkers funding Thursday before they depart town.
For Reid, this means he will have to wait until at least September before he can try to bring up the tourism bill, hoping it doesn't get bumped a third time by sweeping health-care reform legislation.
-By Corey Boles, Dow Jones Newswires; 202-862-6601; [email protected]