updated 1/14/2009 7:10:00 PM ET 2009-01-15T00:10:00

Congress is mulling a proposal to pay people to get rid of those old gas guzzlers sitting in their driveways.

Under legislation introduced Wednesday in both the House and Senate and called the "Cash for Clunkers" program, drivers could get vouchers of up to $4,500 when they turn in their old fuel-inefficient vehicles for scrapping and buy vehicles that get good gas mileage.

People could also turn in their old cars for vouchers that could be used to ride public buses and trains.

The bill, said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., "would be an important part of helping getting America's struggling automobile industry back on its feet, and help consumers who are concerned about covering the cost of buying a more fuel-efficient vehicle."

Taking gas guzzlers off the road, added Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a co-sponsor, "would reduce our dependence on foreign oil, decrease greenhouse gas emissions and stimulate the economy."

The bill envisions the program operating for four years and encouraging the retirement of up to one million vehicles a year, saving between 40,000 and 80,000 barrels of motor fuel a day by the end of the fourth year.

Drivers would be eligible for reimbursement for purchase of a new or used vehicle with a fuel economy rating that exceeds federal targets for that class of vehicle by at least 25 percent. The vehicle must have a manufacturer suggested retail price of less than $45,000 and be a model year 2004 or later.

The vehicles turned in must be drivable, registered in the United States and have a when-new fuel economy rating of less than 18 miles per gallon.

In the first year of the program, a person trading in a vehicle that is model year 2002 and later would be eligible to receive $4,500 for purchase of a new vehicle, $3,000 for purchase of a used vehicle or $3,000 for transit fare credit. For model year vehicles 1999 to 2001, drivers would get $3,000 for the purchase of a new vehicle. Those who trade in vehicles that came out in 1998 or before could get a credit of $2,000 for a new vehicle.

"This is an even better trade-in offer than they could get from any car dealership," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., also a co-sponsor.

A person could obtain no more than one voucher in any three-year period. Dealers and scrap recycling companies could also get payments of $50 per vehicle. Initial estimates set the cost of the program between $1 billion and $2 billion a year.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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