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Sustaining Momentum for “Cash for Caulkers”

The Obama administration’s proposed energy-efficiency initiative takes on a life of its own

Posted on Dec 11 2009 by Richard Defendorf

Back in October, a government report called Recovery Through Retrofit highlighted the benefits and barriers to making weatherization a more robust component of the energy efficiency industry.

By mid-November, the White House was developing a stimulus plan, now known as Cash for Caulkers, that would, as GBA noted in an earlier post, help demystify weatherization for homeowners, help contractors market a new set of government incentives to weatherize, and create a rush to retrofit that, if things go as hoped, would replicate the enthusiasm that greeted the Cash for Clunkers program for used cars.

The Cash for Caulkers concept got another boost this week when President Obama, during address at the Brookings Institution, talked further about creating incentives – mainly through a stimulus-funded rebate program – for homeowners to retrofit their way to greater energy efficiency.

Balancing the practical and visionary
Underpinning this and all other stimulus plans, of course, is the ongoing, increasingly pressing need to create long-term jobs and boost the economy. Stimulus programs so far have been working moderately well, although some, notably the expansion of the Weatherization Assistance Program, have rolled out more slowly than expected. And even though it’s not certain Cash for Caulkers would be greeted as enthusiastically by consumers as Cash for Clunkers, the White House and many Democrats in Congress are looking for a program that embraces their economic and ecological goals but also produces results relatively quickly.

It's a tall order. As noted in a story by the Associated Press, a White House-led jobs forum on December 3 – which included more than 120 labor, industry, and local officials – featured remarks by Obama in which he acknowledged the “tension” between projects that can put people to work quickly, which tend to require upkeep and repair work, and the more "visionary" projects that require planning and time to implement but don't produce jobs as fast.

Support for Cash for Caulkers concepts nonetheless appears to be gaining steam outside Washington, at least in some sectors. Bloomberg News posted a story on Wednesday noting that a Cash for Caulkers program likely would increase sales of Dow Chemical’s foam insulation, sealants, tapes, and adhesives, and would likewise boost sales at home-improvement retailers such as Home Depot and Lowe’s. Representative Peter Welch, a Vermont Democrat, told Bloomberg he proposed $20 billion in energy efficiency rebates over two years in an October 29 memo to Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. The rebates would put 600,000 to 850,000 Americans to work retrofitting 5 million homes and saving $3.3 billion in energy costs, Welch said.

Political caulking
Beyond putting together a workable and swiftly acting program, though, the White House and Congress have some political maneuvering to do to get a law passed. During a bipartisan meeting on Wednesday to discuss job-creation proposals, Obama and Congressional Republican leaders disagreed openly about the administration’s desire to spend more money for stimulus programs designed to reduce unemployment. And in an op-ed piece published in the Washington Post, the House Republican Leader, John Boehner, who attended the meeting on Wednesday, said the White House plans amounted to a “job-killing agenda” – a phrase used frequently by Republicans on the Hill.

But the current administration long ago became accustomed – though not indifferent – to starkly adversarial politics in Congress, and the White House message on a prospective Cash for Caulkers program remained intact.

“I’ve called on Congress to provide temporary incentives for consumers to buy the materials needed to retrofit their homes for greater energy efficiency,” the President said in remarks after the meeting. “This program will spur hiring and spending, promote energy conservation, and help Americans put more money in their pockets by saving on their energy bills. I’ve also proposed that we extend proven initiatives that promote energy efficiency and clean energy jobs.”

Democrats, meanwhile, appear likely to tack a $70 billion jobs bill onto the defense appropriations bill moving through the House of Representatives, the Post noted in another piece posted on Friday. Specifics about the package, however, were not yet available.

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Dec 16, 2009 6:38 AM ET

Cash for Caulkers
by Harris V

President Obama gave his big speech regarding today's job situation. And to at least reduce the unemployment rate, the government has announced a plan for a new program called Cash for Caulkers. The program has great intentions: conserving energy and saving homeowners money. The idea is the government will reimburse homeowners up to 50 percent of the cost of home improvements that conserve energy use in homes. Don’t count on paying for home improvements with a short term personal loan and getting the government’s reimbursement in time to pay it back.

Dec 16, 2009 10:54 PM ET

by David Aronson

A stimulus program does not have lasting effects; however, it does give our younger relatives long term debt. Give tax breaks to small business and it gives lasting effects and helps employment. Several goverment bills will continue to slow employment; ie, cap and trade and card check.. The unions state they desire to elinate the secret ballot. When we go to vote in a political election we do not call it a secret ballot. We call it voting! With card check the union big boys will know who is voting for what and make it plain to the voter he does not like his vote and better change it if he or she enjoys being healthful.

Dec 18, 2009 5:04 AM ET

Fearmongering and double standards
by Tom Shire

Actually, Mr. Aronson, because employers are able to fire and intimidate workers with little fear of legal consequence, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) would be a timely tool for restoring rights that have eroded in recent decades. 'Card check' is currently used by other nations, including our neighbor to the north, Canada.

This article may add some perspective:

As for your assertion that a stimulus program merely adds to long term debt, while tax breaks have "lasting effects and helps employment," I must admit confusion. Wouldn't a 'cash for caulkers' program result in the long term effect of reduced energy consumption and lower energy costs, potentially resulting in greater disposable income for consumers? Those sound like highly beneficial long term effects to me.

Tax cuts, meanwhile, if not offset by reduced spending, simply result in larger budget deficits. The reality is that tax cuts usually mean taxes deferred, with the added bonus of increased interest payments. Doesn't that negatively impact our younger relatives?

Most economists seem in agreement that massive stimulus spending and tax cuts are necessary in our current economic climate. It therefore strikes me as odd that someone would promote entirely the latter over the former.

Unless, that is, political ideology were the motivation. Then it would make perfect sense.

Jan 23, 2010 8:11 AM ET

Cash for Caulkers
by Jason

Great article!

The political tide seems to be turning given the recent election results in Massachusetts. It will be interesting to see how that affects the Cash for Caulkers program. also questions if Obama will give more details of this plan during his State of the Union.

Jan 24, 2010 6:58 AM ET

by Jason

Correction...the website is

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