Obama proposes rebates for energy-saving home improvements

By Michael A. Fletcher
Tuesday, March 2, 2010; 5:31 PM

SAVANNAH, GA. -- President Obama detailed Tuesday his plan to offer government rebates for home retrofitting, saying the measure would both create jobs and save energy.

Speaking before a small audience at a technical college, Obama pointed to the program as evidence of his administration's commitment to job creation.

"That was my focus last year and that is my focus this year, to lay a foundation for economic growth that will create jobs, that raises incomes, that will foster a secure economic future for middle-class families," he said.

Obama called on Congress to enact an administration proposal dubbed "Homestar," which would offer rebates of up to $3,000 for energy-saving home renovations. The idea is based on the popular "Cash for Clunkers" program last year, which offered incentives to trade in older vehicles for more energy-efficient ones, providing a boost to auto sales.

Congressional Republicans scoffed at Obama's plan, saying that past home-weatherization efforts by the federal government have proved ineffective.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) pointed to a recent inspector general's report that said such a program included in the stimulus package, at a cost of nearly $5 billion, is falling far short of expectations.

The report found that less than 10 percent of the allocated money has been spent, partially because of bureaucratic delays in setting wage scales for the retrofitting work. Consequently, the inspector general said, many fewer jobs were created and just a tiny fraction of the number of homes were renovated than was contemplated in the measure.

The administration responded that the Department of Energy program is ramping up its operations, and that it targets a different demographic than does the Homestar program.

If passed by lawmakers, the latter program is expected to cost about $6 billion and entice as many as 3 million homeowners to initiate the renovations.

Obama said the program would achieve multiple goals at once: lowering energy bills for consumers, creating jobs and reducing the nation's dependence on foreign energy sources.

"This is not a Democratic idea or a Republican idea," Obama said. "It is a common-sense approach that will help jump-start job creation while making our economy stronger."

The president spoke during a day-long tour of Savannah businesses Tuesday, in which he met with business people, enjoyed a heaping plate of Southern cuisine at Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room, a local restaurant, and observed Savannah Technical College students being trained in energy-efficient construction.

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