March 2, 2010 / 11:03 AM / 10 years ago

Obama to pitch "cash for caulkers" in Georgia

* Program estimated at $6 billion

* Must win approval in Congress

* Latest stop on jobs and economy tour

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON, March 2 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will announce details of an estimated $6 billion program on Tuesday to generate jobs by providing incentives for Americans to make their homes more energy efficient, the latest step in his bid to convince Americans he can ease their economic woes.

The plan, which must be passed by Congress, is intended to prompt Americans to invest in everything from insulation or new windows to overarching energy upgrades of their homes, creating construction and manufacturing jobs, and boosting energy efficiency.

“The current thinking is that the program would be in the range of $6 billion, and we think that would be an appropriate range for a program of this magnitude,” said a senior administration official, who asked not to be named in advance of Obama’s comments.

Obama will spell out details of the plan during a trip to Savannah, Georgia, the latest stop on his “White House to Main Street” tour, during which he discusses ideas for rebuilding the economy.

With unemployment just below 10 percent, Americans are anxious about the country’s finances, nudging Obama’s approval ratings to 50 percent or below and potentially dimming his fellow Democrats’ prospects in November’s congressional elections.

The program involves a range of incentives for consumers, including rebates from stores that sell building materials, companies that install the equipment and utility energy efficiency programs. Consumers could also get rebates for a range of home energy upgrades.

Dubbed “cash for caulkers” after last year’s successful “cash for clunkers” automobile trade-in program, the program was first announced in early December. Obama called on Congress to support it in his State of the Union address in January.


Like “clunkers,” it will have time limits, although such details would be worked out with Congress. Democrats included the program in a set of job-creation efforts they announced early in February.

“We would anticipate that in the range of 2 to 3 million households would participate,” the administration official said. “It’s designed to be a short-term program.”

The scheme would also offer support for state and local governments to provide financing options for consumers who want to participate. The White House said it expected the program would save consumers $200 to $500 in energy costs per year.

The president’s agenda got a rare boost last week when a few Republicans in the Senate joined Democrats to approve a $15 billion package of tax breaks and highway spending that aims to bring down the 9.7 percent unemployment rate.

But Republicans seeking to wrest control of Congress from the Democrats have scored political points by expressing concern that what Obama frames as job creation efforts are overspending to expand the reach of government. The White House must also placate investors nervous about deficit spending as it seeks to stimulate job growth.

Some of Obama’s priorities — notably healthcare and financial regulation — have been stalled since his fellow Democrats lost their 60-seat “supermajority” in the U.S. Senate in January.

Obama’s full itinerary in Savannah has not been announced, but his stops will include Savannah Technical College, a technical and adult education school.

Editing by Stacey Joyce

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