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May 6, 2010 4:33 PM by Melissa Canone

Cash for Caulkers

WASHINGTON (AP) - Homeowners could collect thousands of dollars
in Cash for Caulkers rebates for renovating their homes with better
insulation and energy-saving windows and doors under a new economic
stimulus bill the House passed Thursday.
The Home Star bill, passed 246-161, would authorize $6 billion
over two years for a program that supporters - mostly Democrats -
said would have the added benefits of invigorating the slumping
construction industry and making the earth a little cleaner.
"Home Star is that solid investment that's going to achieve
that hat trick of energy savings for the homeowner, of moving
toward a cleaner environment and of creating jobs here at home,"
said bill sponsor Peter Welch, D-Vt.
Republicans overwhelmingly opposed the bill, and they were able
to attach a condition that it would be terminated if Democrats do
not come up with a way to pay for it.
The measure has come to be dubbed Cash for Caulkers, a takeoff
on the popular 2009 Cash for Clunkers initiative that rewarded
people for replacing gas-guzzling vehicles with more fuel-efficient
models.
President Barack Obama has promoted the bill, which also needs
Senate approval.
The initiative is separate from an energy tax credit of up to
$1,500 that was included in last year's economic stimulus act. That
credit for energy efficiency improvements runs through the end of
this year.
Supporters estimate that 3 million households would make use of
the new program, saving $9.2 billion in energy costs over a 10-year
period. They said it would create 168,000 jobs, mainly in the
recession-hit construction industry.
"Nearly one in four workers in the home construction and
services industry has been laid off," said Energy and Commerce
Committee chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif. "Passing Home Star says,
'Help is on the way."'
Republicans were more skeptical, saying the price tag was too
high at a time of mounting federal debts.
"We are going to authorize $6.6 billion of money we don't have
so we can caulk homes?" asked House Republican leader John Boehner
of Ohio.
"This is not a terribly bad bill, but it has one fatal flaw: It
is not paid for," said Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, top Republican on
the energy committee. Democrats argued that the issue of paying for
the legislation will come later in the budgetary process, when
Congress approves annual spending bills.
Republicans succeeded at the end of the debate in altering the
bill to say it will be terminated if it is found to drive up the
federal deficit, a provision that will force Democrats to come up
with an offset. The Republicans also were able to alter the
legislation so that the rebates would go directly to homeowners. In
the original version, homeowners were to receive a discount or
rebate from a retailer or contractor, who then would apply for
payment from the government.
In debate on the bill, Republicans questioned whether the
government can run the rebate program fairly and effectively. They
said a $4.7 billion weatherization program that was part of last
year's economic stimulus act has been slow to provide grants to
states.
The Cash for Clunkers program, too, had some problems. An
Associated Press study last November found that the program was
commonly used by people turning in old pickups for new trucks that
got only marginally better gas mileage.
Under Home Star, rebates or discounts would be provided to
homeowners at the time of sale. The retailer or contractor then
would submit documentation to a processing office which would
verify the information and forward the request to the Energy
Department for payment.
To prevent fraud, the program would require licensing for all
participating contractors and a certain percentage of projects
would be inspected.
The bill has two parts: The Silver Star program provides upfront
rebates of up to $3,000 for specific energy-efficient improvements
in homes, such as installing energy-efficient appliances or duct
sealing, insulation or new windows or doors.
A Gold Star program would entitle people to up to $8,000 when
they conduct comprehensive energy audits and implement measures
that reduce energy use throughout their homes by more than 20
percent.


The bill has the backing of a wide spectrum of environmental and
business groups.
"There is strong evidence that temporary, targeted incentive
programs like Home Star can generate jobs, investment and economic
growth," National Association of Manufacturers president John
Engler said at a hearing in March.
With House passage, the bill moves to the Senate, where it most
likely will be attached to the next jobs bill.
The legislation also would approve $600 million over two years
for grants to states for programs to replace mobile homes with more
energy efficient models.

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