The federal government’s “cash for clunkers” program has been an overwhelming hit with car buyers.

Never mind the complex regulations that have forced auto dealers to spend many sleepless nights trying to understand the incentive’s maze of regulations, the criticism that lawmakers seriously underestimated its popularity, the debate that the new vehicles purchased should have been limited to those made by U.S.-based automakers, or those very legitimate concerns over mounting federal deficits.

Even if the U.S. Senate chooses not to replenish the program’s funding, which seems unlikely, the Car Allowance Rebate System may have established a template for future stimulus programs — assuming lawmakers even dare to consider anything more this century — when the nation is faced with a major crisis. In an economy that rises and falls largely on consumer confidence and spending, putting funds directly into buyers’ hands has an immediate impact — not only on shoppers’ attitudes, but also on the businesses fortunate enough to be included.

While the full effects of much of the federal stimulus package approved during the dark days during the winter of 2008-2009 have yet to be felt, signs have already appeared that suggest that the worst recession most Americans can remember is easing. Meanwhile, the “clunkers” program has proven to be a spark exactly where it is needed. The concept may not have been perfect, not to mention its administration, but don’t try to convince the 120,000 motorists who have already swapped their beaters for new wheels.

Brownwood Bulletin