Written by

Martin Feldstein

CAMBRIDGE –The tax package agreed to by President Barack Obama and his Republican opponents in the United States Congress represents the right mix of an appropriate short-run fiscal policy and a first step toward longer-term fiscal prudence. The key feature of the agreement is to continue the existing 2010 income-tax rates for another two years with no commitment about what will happen to tax rates after that.

Without that agreement, tax rates would have reverted in 2011 to the higher level that prevailed before the Bush tax cuts of 2001. That would mean higher taxes for all taxpayers, raising tax liabilities in 2011 and 2012 by about $450 billion (1.5% of GDP).

Because America’s GDP has recently been growing at an annual rate of only about 2% – and final sales at only about 1% – such a tax increase would probably have pushed the US economy into a new recession. Although the new tax law is generally described as a fiscal stimulus, it is more accurate to say that it avoids a large immediate fiscal contraction.

The long-term implications of the agreement stand in sharp contrast both to Obama’s February 2010 budget proposal and to the Republicans’ counter-proposal. Obama wanted to continue the 2010 tax rates permanently for all taxpayers except those with annual incomes over $250,000. The Republicans proposed continuing the 2010 tax rates permanently for all taxpayers. By agreeing to limit the current tax rates for just two years, the tax package reduces the projected national debt at the end of the decade (relative to what it would have been with the Obama budget) by some $2 trillion or nearly 10% of GDP in 2020.

That reduction in potential deficits and debt can by itself give a boost to the economy in 2011 by calming fears that an exploding national debt would eventually force the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates – perhaps sharply if foreign buyers of US Treasuries suddenly became frightened by the deficit prospects.

The official budget arithmetic will treat the agreement on personal-income tax rates as a $450 billion increase in the deficit, making it seem like a big fiscal stimulus. But the agreement only maintains the existing tax rates, so taxpayers do not see it as a tax cut. It would be a fiscal stimulus only if taxpayers had previously expected that Congress and the administration would allow the tax rates to rise – an unlikely prospect, given the highly adverse effects that doing so would have had on the currently weak economy.

Even for those taxpayers who had feared a tax increase in 2011 and 2012, it is not clear how much the lower tax payments will actually boost consumer spending. The previous temporary tax cuts in 2008 and 2009 appear to have gone largely into saving and debt reduction rather than increased spending.

It is surprising, therefore, that forecasters raised their GDP growth forecasts for 2011 significantly on the basis of the tax agreement. A typical reaction was to raise the forecast for 2011 from 2.5% to 3.5%. While an increase of this magnitude would be plausible if a forecaster had previously expected tax rates to increase in 2011, it would not have been reasonable to forecast 2.5% growth in the first place with that assumption in mind. So, either the initial 2.5% forecast was too high or the increase of one percentage point is too large.

What is true of the agreement is also true of the decision, as part of that agreement, to maintain unemployment insurance benefits for the long-term unemployed. This, too, is essentially just a continuation of the status quo. No new benefit has been created.

The most substantial potential boost to spending comes from a temporary reduction of the payroll tax, lowering the rate paid by employees on income up to about $100,000 from 6.2% to 4.2%. But, while the decline in tax payments will be about 0.8% of GDP, it is not clear how much of this will translate into additional consumer spending and how much into additional saving. Because this tax cut will take the form of lower withholding from weekly or monthly wages, it may seem more permanent than it really is, and therefore have a greater impact on spending than households’ very feeble response to the previous temporary tax changes.

The final component of the agreement is temporary acceleration of tax depreciation, allowing firms in 2011 to write off 100% of capital investment immediately, in contrast to the current rule, which stipulates a 50% immediate write-off, followed by depreciation of the remaining 50% over the statutory life of the equipment. But, at a time when interest rates are very low and large businesses have enormous amounts of cash on their balance sheets, this change in the timing of tax payments is not likely to do much to stimulate investment.

A greater stimulus to business investment may come from the perception that Obama’s agreement to extend the personal-income tax cuts for high-income individuals signals his administration’s reduced antagonism to business and the wealthy. Obama’s recent statement that he favors reforming personal and corporate taxes by lowering rates and broadening the tax base reinforces that impression. Let’s hope that’s true.

Martin Feldstein, Professor of Economics at Harvard, was Chairman of President Ronald Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers, and is former President of the National Bureau for Economic Research.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2010.
http://www.project-syndicate.org

August 6, 2009

Written by Michael Grabell and Jennifer La Fleur as reported in ProPublica

Since the economic stimulus bill passed nearly six months ago, the Obama administration has repeatedly pledged that the money would reach middle America, seeping into the communities hardest hit by the recession.

But analysis of the most comprehensive list of stimulus spending to date found no relationship between where the money is going and unemployment and poverty.

Stimulus spending is literally all over the map, according to ProPublica’s analysis, which examined nearly all the contracts, grants and loans the government has reported awarding. Some battered counties are hauling in large amounts, while others that are just as hard hit have received little.

Take Trigg County, Ky. [2], where unemployment was 15.8 percent in June after the auto industry crisis rippled among suppliers. The stimulus has chipped in $1 million toward a biofuels facility and $30 million for a road project. According to the data, the county has been awarded $2,419 per resident.

But LaGrange County, Ind. [3], hasn’t fared so well. Despite having the identical unemployment rate, it has received only $33 a person. The community is still trying to recover after recreational vehicle plants shuttered last fall. Yet the stimulus has provided little more than the education and rural housing money that every county is scheduled to receive.

For months now, Democrats and Republicans have debated whether the stimulus is trickling down to communities that need it most. Much of the available evidence has been anecdotal, however, or based on studies that examined only transportation spending or a smaller list of projects.

The debate accelerates today as President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden visit Elkhart, Ind., and Detroit for a progress report on the economy that will again highlight the stimulus. What the available data show is that spending is uneven and sometimes runs contrary to measures of need.

Elizabeth Oxhorn, the White House stimulus spokeswoman, said much of the money thus far has moved through existing grant formulas that don’t take into account regional economic swings. But as some newer stimulus programs kick in — such as economic development grants and money to hire police officers — there will be more discretion in where to send dollars, she said.

“Where we do have opportunities to target assistance and programs that are meant to help hard-hit areas, we have done that, particularly in the hard-hit auto communities,” Oxhorn said.

First Look at County-Level Spending

Overall, the stimulus program will pump $787 billion into the economy, including tax cuts.

To assess what has happened so far, ProPublica combined all the data on the federal stimulus Web site, Recovery.gov, with reports from other government sources into a list totaling $120 billion worth of stimulus spending. Of that, ProPublica examined $55 billion that could be traced to the county level.

Getting a complete accounting of the stimulus is nearly impossible because some of its largest elements — tax cuts for individuals, increases in Medicaid and unemployment — aren’t being tracked to the local level or have yet to be distributed by the states.

While those programs clearly benefit individuals hurt by the recession, they aren’t intended to create or sustain many jobs, as with dollars aimed at infrastructure or schools. The 7 percent of overall stimulus funding in ProPublica’s analysis is the broadest, most complete snapshot of spending to date.

The largest categories are highway projects, Pell Grants for low-income college students and funding to school districts for disadvantaged students. The data also include airport grants, small business loans, housing assistance, nuclear cleanup and military construction contracts.

ProPublica tested the relationship between spending per person and several socioeconomic and demographic factors across more than 3,100 counties and equivalent areas, such as Louisiana parishes, to see if there was a statistically significant pattern in the way money has been allocated.

Nationwide, the results showed no significant relationship across counties when spending was compared against unemployment, poverty, race and income. Looking within state boundaries, spending did have a relationship to unemployment in a few cases — but not always in the same direction.

In New Jersey [4], for example, counties with high unemployment were more likely to get more stimulus money per person. The opposite proved true in Michigan [5], which has the nation’s highest jobless rate at 15.2 percent. A searchable list of county stimulus projects and demographics is here. [6]

Nuclear Cleanups Boost Rural Counties

The biggest winner so far — at nearly $12,000 per resident — is Thomas County [7], an area of 583 people in the Nebraska Sandhills. Unemployment there is 4.8 percent, about half the national rate.

Judy Taylor, chairwoman of the Village Board in Thedford, said the majority of residents consider the main stimulus project, a $7 million viaduct over the railroad tracks, a waste of money.

“Out here, there seems to be plenty of work for people,” said Janice Hodges, whose family owns a gas station nearby. “It probably could have been better used somewhere else.”

Overall, the counties faring the best in the stimulus program are sparse communities with a giant road project — such as Brooks County [8], Texas, or Hocking County [9], Ohio — as one expensive project to a county with few people can skew per-capita figures.

Other counties doing well are home to Cold War weapons plants. The stimulus includes $6 billion to clean up and dispose of waste in 12 states, and those were among the first contracts awarded.

Thanks to the massive cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, Benton County, Wash. [10], has received more than $1.5 billion — second only to Los Angeles County‘s [11] $2 billion in total funding so far. Benton County’s per capita spending: $9,300.

In metro areas, per-capita spending varies. LA County’s funding equates to $215 per person. New York County [12], which covers Manhattan, is receiving $610; its neighbor, the Bronx, is getting $185. Palm Beach County, Fla., is receiving $57, and Wayne County, Mich., epicenter of the auto industry meltdown, has received $183 per resident — about the national average for spending that could be tracked to the county level.

Some well-off counties are benefiting greatly.

Summit County, Utah [13], home to Park City and several upscale ski resorts, is one of the wealthiest counties in the country with a median household income of $83,000. Under the stimulus so far, it’s received $659 per person.

The money includes a $15 million interstate paving project, a $5 million bridge replacement, $1 million for sewers and sidewalks on Main Street in Coalville, and a $570,000 small-business loan to a Park City oral surgeon.

John Hanrahan, chairman of the Summit County Council, said the highway and bridge projects are in the rural part of the county and are mainly used by long-haul truckers rather than residents.

“It doesn’t necessarily help a farmer a lot for hay or gas,” he said. “It doesn’t affect the ski industry. We still have a significant portion of the population who are struggling with this recession.”

Hanrahan’s point underscores one of the basic uncertainties when determining who benefits from stimulus dollars. Money spent on a project doesn’t necessarily stay in the community. Construction workers often drive through several counties to job sites.

“People will live in one area and work in another,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Economy.com. “Some county in a region could be getting more money but it could have a beneficial impact on other counties in the region.”

Obama’s Pledge: Help Is on the Way

When Obama launched the stimulus package in February, he visited Elkhart, a city that had seen its jobless rate skyrocket from a 5.8 percent in October 2007 to 20.8 percent this March.

The next day, he visited Fort Myers, Fla., which had been pummeled by the foreclosure crisis. Since then, administration officials have repeatedly visited auto industry towns to promise help.

Trigg County is one struggling area that has seen a flood of stimulus money. The county, on the Kentucky-Tennessee border, northwest of Nashville, has about 13,000 residents but received $32.5 million.

The county’s largest manufacturer, Johnson Controls, made car seat frames until it closed in March, leaving 560 people out of work. But right on the heels of that shutdown came $30 million in federal money for an ongoing project to widen U.S. Highway 68.

That stimulus money freed state funds already pledged to the $55 million expansion, protecting the contractor’s current workforce. State officials said it might have stalled without the stimulus.

The U.S. Forest Service awarded $2 million in contracts to clean up the Land Between the Lakes recreation area, which had been devastated by an ice storm. The agency also gave the county a grant for a facility that will convert wood to fuel to power a local hospital.

“When you tally it up and see the dollars that will come into our area through the stimulus, it is working,” said Stan Humphries, Trigg County judge-executive. “It doesn’t move as fast as we would like or reach as many families as we would hope for. But we feel that we are getting our share of the funds.”

Big Pots of Money Hard to Track

Edmund Phelps, a Nobel laureate who is director of Columbia University’s Center on Capitalism and Society, said it’s no surprise that spending so far doesn’t relate to characteristics like employment or poverty. To get money out quickly, the government relied on funding formulas that aren’t designed for an economic downturn. “It’s kaleidoscopic,” he said of the stimulus. “And it was all done very quickly.”

Some of the largest pots of money — tax cuts, food stamps and Medicaid assistance — go to more than 100 million individuals, and government auditors are struggling to estimate the local impact.

“Can you send a man to Jupiter? In theory you can,” said J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration. “We could in theory track every dollar, but you have to consider the expense and the time it would take to do that.”

For other types of spending programs — such as the $54 billion to stabilize state budgets and help local schools, or $6 billion to build water and sewage treatment plants — the money trail stops at the state governments, which are still deciding how to divvy up the funds. Only a fraction of the stabilization money has been sent to the states from Washington.

Other programs, such as transit grants, mask where the jobs are created. When the Akron, Ohio, transit authority bought 19 buses, for example, it created work at local rubber suppliers — but also at the plants that made the buses in Kansas, North Dakota and California.

“It’s difficult to take into account all of the different dimensions,” said Steve Murdock, a former Census Bureau director who is a professor of sociology at Rice University. “You have populations with various kinds of needs and local economies that reflect different kinds of conditions.”

Elkhart’s Poor Cousin Next Door

As Obama returns to Elkhart, he might want to consider LaGrange County just to the east.

While Elkhart County has been awarded about $169 per resident — a little less than the national average — LaGrange has received just $33 a person, according to the data.

Both counties saw their economies crater last year when high gas prices and tight credit made it difficult to sell recreational vehicles, a primary industry there. Dozens of factories, dealerships and suppliers shut down while thousands lost their jobs.

LaGrange County has several needed transportation and infrastructure projects, said Keith Gillenwater, the county’s economic development director. But so far, it has been shut out of any of the federal highway funding doled out by the state government.

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “To me there’s a lot of disparity that should be re-examined and taken into consideration.”

 

ProPublica is America’s largest investigative newsroom.

US Economy shrinks at 6.2%

February 28, 2009

By JEANNINE AVERSA • Associated Press • February 28, 2009

Excerpts as reported in Courier Post

The economy contracted at a staggering 6.2 percent pace at the end of 2008, the worst showing in a quarter-century, as consumers and businesses ratcheted back spending, plunging the country deeper into recession.

The Commerce Department report released Friday showed the economy sinking much faster than the 3.8 percent annualized drop for the October-December quarter first estimated last month. It also was considerably weaker than the 5.4 percent annualized decline economists expected.

A much sharper cutback in consumer spending — which accounts for about 70 percent of economic activity — along with a bigger drop in U.S. exports sales, and reductions in business spending and inventories all contributed to the largest revision on records dating to 1976.

Looking ahead, economists predict consumers and businesses will keep cutting back spending, making the first six months of this year especially rocky.

“Right now we’re in the period of maximum recession stress, where the big cuts are being made,” said economist Ken Mayland, president of ClearView Economics.

The new report offered grim proof that the economy’s economic tailspin accelerated in the fourth quarter under a slew of negative forces feeding on each other. The economy started off 2008 on feeble footing, picked up a bit of speed in the spring and then contracted at an annualized rate of 0.5 percent in the third quarter.

The faster downhill slide in the final quarter of last year came as the financial crisis — the worst since the 1930s — intensified.

Consumers at the end of the year slashed spending by the most in 28 years. They chopped spending on cars, furniture, appliances, clothes and other things. Businesses retrenched sharply, too, dropping the ax on equipment and software, home building and commercial construction.

Before Friday’s report was released, many economists were projecting an annualized drop of 5 percent in the current January-March quarter. However, given the fourth quarter’s showing and the dismal state of the jobs market, Mayland believes a decline of closer to 6 percent in the current quarter is possible.

The nation’s unemployment rate is now at 7.6 percent, the highest in more than 16 years. The Federal Reserve expects the jobless rate to rise to close to 9 percent this year, and probably remain above normal levels of around 5 percent into 2011.

A smaller decline in the economy is expected for the second quarter of this year. But the new GDP figure — like the old one — marked the weakest quarterly showing since an annualized drop of 6.4 percent in the first quarter of 1982, when the country was suffering through an intense recession.

“It’s going to be a challenging 2009,” Scott Davis, chief executive officer of global shipping giant UPS, said Thursday while speaking to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington.

American consumers — spooked by vanishing jobs, sinking home values and shrinking investment portfolios have cut back. In turn, companies are slashing production and payrolls. Rising foreclosures are aggravating the already stricken housing market, hard-to-get credit has stymied business investment and is crimping the ability of some consumers to make big-ticket purchases.

It’s creating a self-perpetuating vicious cycle that Washington policymakers are finding hard to break.

To jolt life back into the economy, President Barack Obama recently signed a $787 billion recovery package of increased government spending and tax cuts. The president also unveiled a $75 billion plan to stem home foreclosures and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said as much as $2 trillion could be plowed into the financial system to jump-start lending.

For all of 2008, the economy grew by just 1.1 percent, weaker than the government initially estimated. That was down from a 2 percent gain in 2007 and marked the slowest growth since the last recession in 2001.

With Friday’s figures, Mayland lowered his forecast for this year to show a deeper contraction of just over 2 percent.

In the fourth quarter, consumers cut spending at a 4.3 percent pace. That was deeper than the initial 3.5 percent annualized drop and marked the biggest decline since the second quarter of 1980.

Businesses slashed spending on equipment and software at an annualized pace of 28.8 percent in the final quarter of last year. That also was deeper than first reported and was the worst showing since the first quarter of 1958.

Fallout from the housing collapse spread to other areas. Builders cut spending on commercial construction projects by 21.1 percent, the most since the first quarter of 1975. Home builders slashed spending at a 22.2 percent pace, the most since the start of 2008.

A sharper drop in U.S. exports also factored into the weaker fourth-quarter performance. Economic troubles overseas are sapping demand for domestic goods and services.

Businesses also cut investments in inventories — as they scrambled to reduce stocks in the face of dwindling customer demand — another factor contributing to the weaker fourth-quarter reading. The government last month thought businesses had boosted inventories, which added to gross domestic product, or GDP.

GDP is the value of all goods and services produced in the United States and is the best barometer of the country’s economic health.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke earlier this week told Congress that the economy is suffering a “severe contraction” and is likely to keep shrinking in the first six months of this year. But he planted a seed of hope that the recession might end his year if the government managed to prop up the shaky banking system.

Even in the best-case scenario that the recession ends this year and an economic recovery happens next year, unemployment is likely to keep rising.

That’s partly because many analysts don’t think the early stages of any recovery will be vigorous, and because companies won’t be inclined to ramp up hiring until they feel confident that any economic rebound will have staying power.

More job losses were announced this week. JPMorgan Chase & Co. on Thursday said it would eliminate about 12,000 jobs as it absorbs the operations of failed savings and loan Washington Mutual Inc. That figure includes 9,200 cuts announced previously and 2,800 jobs expected to be lost through attrition.

The NFL said Wednesday that the league dropped 169 jobs through buyouts, layoffs and other reductions. Textile maker Milliken & Co. said it would cut 650 jobs at facilities worldwide, while jeweler Zale Corp. said it will close 115 stores and eliminate 245 positions.

Our Perspective:

The news keeps getting gloomier! I guess there is no easy way t0 say it. We took our eye off the ball. We elected officals to represent our interest and take care of our welfare. We can try to point fingers but we are all responsible. We all drank the kool-aid.

We thought this could never happen to us. We’re educated, life is good. We became complacient and did not plan for our future. I know President Obama is throwing a lot against the wall, hoping something will stick.

Roosevelt introduced the NewDeal. If something didn’t work, he said let’s tweak it, what else can we do. Obama is following this lead. It may not be pretty, but we are not left with many alternatives. We can see what happens when we do nothing or we are caught up in our own self interest.

We are all one and we are here to help one another. We must approach this dilemna with the hopes of picking everyone up, not just a few.  There will be difficult decisions. We are resilient and we will rebuild and prevail You may leave a comment or email george@hbsadvantage.com .

Let us know your thoughs?

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — To the casual eye, the basement of this city’s Firehouse 9 looks like a jumble of old hydrants, Dr Pepper cartons, rakes and random gear. To specialists in energy efficiency, the 1960s-era building is a mess of a different sort: wasteful hot water heaters for the firefighters’ showers, ancient refrigerators and outdated lights.

Shawn Poynter for The New York Times

Mike Saylor, left, and John Plack, Jr. look at bulbs in Knoxville’s Fire House 9. The city is about to find out which buildings are wasting the most energy.  

Wrapping up an elaborate energy audit, Knoxville is about to find out which of 99 city buildings are wasting the most energy. It hopes to begin repairs this summer, just in time to catch a tsunami of federal stimulus money earmarked for such unglamorous tasks as replacing light bulbs and fixing leaky insulation.

Knoxville’s timing is excellent. The city began the arduous work of cataloging deficiencies before the stimulus bill passed, and it is well along in planning its next steps. But experts worry that other beneficiaries, especially cities, are not ready to oversee the huge sums of energy-efficiency money about to come their way.

The money in the bill is enough to pay for a tremendous expansion of efficiency efforts across the country. But as with other parts of the stimulus package, the efficiency plan is creating tension between spending the money quickly, to get rapid economic stimulus, and spending it well, to do the most good over the long run.

“There’s enormous opportunity here for expansion of energy efficiency in this country,” said Lowell Ungar, the policy director for the Alliance to Save Energy, an advocacy group. “But there is certainly the potential for waste.”

President Obama signed the stimulus package into law on Feb. 17, hailing it as a shot of money big enough to help shake the economy from its lethargy while advancing many of his campaign priorities. Accelerating the country’s energy transition is at the top of his list. Many experts in the field agree with him that carefully chosen investments in efficiency will ultimately save more than they cost, by cutting energy bills.

At least $20 billion in the stimulus bill was earmarked for programs like improving the efficiency of government buildings and the homes of poor people, and trying to find better ways to save energy. That is far more, advocates say, than any bill in history. Within a few months, the money is likely to start landing in the bank accounts of thinly staffed state and city agencies that are accustomed to scraping for a dime here, a dollar there.

Utah expects that its state energy office will receive $40 million for energy efficiency, renewable energy and related programs — 123 times the size of the office’s current budget, said Jason Berry, who manages the four-person unit. He is about to go on a hiring spree.

The package contains $5 billion to weatherize low-income homes through the Department of Energy, enough to give the state programs that manage that work 10 to 30 times the money they received last year, said Christina Kielich, a department spokeswoman.

For advocates of this relatively obscure program, “it’s like they finally got to the other side of the desert and it’s pouring rain,” said Seth Kaplan, a vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental group.

The stimulus package also contains $4.5 billion to modernize federal buildings and $2.5 billion for research into energy efficiency and renewable energy. The biggest chunk, $6.3 billion, will be distributed by the Energy Department in grants to state and local governments, which can spend the money on things as diverse as thicker window panes for state capitols and rebates for homeowners who change their light bulbs.

Homes and commercial buildings account for 39 percent of national energy consumption. Experts say that improving their efficiency is not only cost-effective but also a good way to reduce the nation’s emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

But figuring out how to spend the money effectively — learning which university buildings need their doors caulked, for example, or which firehouse walls have insulation that is too thin — can involve time-consuming, tricky analysis by skilled technicians.

“People are very conservative about their buildings,” said Donald Gilligan, the president of the National Association of Energy Service Companies, a trade group. “Nobody wants to put a failed technology into the school buildings or have the lights not work.”

In Knoxville, a team of auditors hired by the city is spending six months peering into the grimy nooks of fire and police stations and even the convention center, where one employee referred to the downstairs boiler area as a “money-eating room.”

Knoxville — which says the stimulus money may help accelerate or expand its program — hopes to reduce the city’s energy bills as much as 25 percent, and the city is “definitely on the front end of the wave as far as efficiency and municipalities addressing efficiency,” said John Plack Jr., a director of project development for Ameresco, which is conducting the Knoxville energy audit.

In the Southeastern region of the country, where Mr. Plack works, low electricity prices have often made saving energy an afterthought, unlike in California and much of the Northeast. For example, Nashville, nearly 200 miles west of Knoxville, has not conducted an energy audit of its city buildings, though it hopes to use stimulus money to look through its own stock of fire stations and libraries.

“There’s a lot of municipalities out there who are completely unaware this is moving forward,” Mr. Kaplan said, referring especially to smaller cities. “They just don’t have the infrastructure in place to deal with this.”

The Energy Department, which is doling out most of the grants, has been assailed on Capitol Hill for delays in disbursing other types of assistance for clean energy. Ms. Kielich said in an e-mail message that the department hoped efficiency grants would begin flowing to city and state energy offices within 120 days, and that it planned to begin disbursing weatherization money “expeditiously and responsibly.”

On the receiving end, absorbing the huge increase in money for weatherization could be particularly challenging, said Ian Bowles, the secretary of energy and environmental affairs for Massachusetts. Though he contends it can be done, “the weatherization folks are going to have to quintuple their effort in order to put that money out,” he said.

In some cases, the managers of efficiency programs may not need to look far to find ways to spend the money.

In Knoxville, the Community Action Committee, whose operations include helping poor people weatherize their homes, works from a building with a $14,000 monthly utility bill — some of it because of an enormous skylight that lets in too much blistering Tennessee sunshine in the summer.

“It’s embarrassing,” said Barbara Kelly, executive director of the committee. “We do better for our clients than we do for us.”

Our Perspective:

I applaud the stimulus but I am always nervous when large sums of money is out into the government’s hands. Responsible spending is the key to this stimulus spending. Investing in the infrastructure ( roads, bridges, rails and energy), is an investment in our future. This will only make us a stronger nation.

Irresponsible spending and earmarks will only tarnish our efforts and be counterproductive. The United States is poised to lead the next great energy evolution.

Let’s be sure to hold our elected officials accountable!

Let us know your thoughts? You may leave a comment or email george@hbsadvantage.com

Obama signs stimulus plan

February 25, 2009

Written by Martin Lamonica

Martin LaMonica is a senior writer for CNET’s Green Tech blog.

President Obama signed into law a government stimulus package Tuesday and said the energy provisions will pave the path for doubling the amount of renewable energy in the next three years.

Energy is a major piece of the massive $787 billion package, totaling about $38 billion in government spending and about $20 billion in tax incentives over the next 10 years, according to estimates.

 

President Barack Obama signs the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in Denver.

(Credit: Screen capture by Martin LaMonica/CNET Networks)

 

Obama signed the bill, called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, into law at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science where he later took a tour of the museum’s solar-panel installation.

The energy portions of the law are intended to promote rapid development of renewable energy sources and increase energy efficiency in buildings, appliances, and other sectors of the economy.

The president said he hoped that the clean-energy-related portions of the bill will inspire Americans the same way that President Kennedy’s goal to put a man on the moon did in the 1960s.

“I hope this investment will ignite our imagination once more in science, medicine, energy and make our economy stronger, our nation more secure, and our planet safer for our children,” Obama said before signing the bill.

The major energy-related portions of the law were largely left intact after Congressional debate. Overall, the plan will more than triple the amount of spending on clean-energy programs, said Daniel Weiss, a fellow at the Center for American Progress.

Major energy portions include:

 

  • A three-year extension to the tax credit for wind, which would have expired at the end of this year, and an extension until the end of 2013 for geothermal and biomass renewable-energy projects. The credit has been increased to 30 percent of the investment.
  • $4.5 billion in direct spending to modernize the electricity grid with smart-grid technologies.
  • $6.3 billion in state energy-efficient and clean-energy grants and $4.5 billion to make federal buildings more energy efficient.
  • $6 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy systems, biofuel projects, and electric-power transmission facilities.
  • $2 billion in loans to manufacture advanced batteries and components for applications such as plug-in electric cars.
  • $5 billion to weatherize homes of up to 1 million low-income people.
  • $3.4 billion appropriated to the Department of Energy for fossil energy research and development, such as storing carbon dioxide underground at coal power plants.
  • A tax credit of between $2,500 and $5,000 for purchase of plug-in electric vehicles, available for the first 200,000 placed into service.

(Click here for full summary from the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) and from law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf.)

Measuring the impact
In general, companies in the green-technology field have welcomed the focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy production in the law.

The law gives renewable-energy project developers an alternative to the existing federal subsidy. Many renewable-energy projects have been stalled, or scrapped, because many investors don’t have enough income to take advantage of a 30 percent federal tax credit. The bill now allows renewable-energy project developers to effectively get the same credit by applying for a loan from the Department of Energy for 30 percent of the project, explained Rhone Resch, the president of the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA).

The loan guarantees are designed to help companies to commercialize new energy technologies, by providing money for a manufacturing facility, for example. A number of green-tech companies, including flywheel storage company Beacon Power, electric-car company Tesla Motors, and battery maker A123 Systems have applied

More generally, investors and analysts said that the significance of the law is that it’s a step toward crafting a more comprehensive energy policy, based on sustained commitment to renewable energy and efficiency.

“For years, U.S. policymakers’ support for clean energy has been uneven,” said Michael Liebreich, the CEO of research firm New Energy Finance, in a statement. “No longer…the U.S. will have a great chance to be the growth engine for our industry over the next several years.

The spending on the bill on things like smart grid technologies and energy efficiency should have a rapid impact, said Dennis Costello, a venture capitalist at Braemar Energy Ventures. But he said that even with the economic stimulus of the government spending, the conditions for energy technology firms remains very difficult.

Specifically, he said the drop in the cost of oil over the past year makes it harder for a firm that is seeking to develop a replacement, such as biofuels. Also, the overall recession continues to dampen demand for products and financing remains challenging.

“It’s kind of refreshing to see at least beginnings of a real energy policy, some sort of unified approach to our energy problems,” Costello said. “But it isn’t going to solve our energy problems. There are a lot of countervailing factors to give pause to being overexuberant on the future of energy sector and clean tech.”

Analysts noted there are other challenges to a rapid change in the slow-moving energy sector.

The stimulus act gives the Department of Energy control over billions of dollars in loans and spending on research and development projects–more than the department’s annual budget. But the Energy Department has not dispersed money in the past few years because of its slow approval process, which Secretary Steven Chu said he intends to speed up.

Also, a sharp increase in renewable energy from wind and solar power requires building new power lines to bring electricity from windy and sunny areas to more populated regions.

Bramaer’s Costello said an industry association estimated that the stimulus act spending could lead to 3,000 new miles of transmission lines. However, siting these new lines is a contentious process and likely to meet local and state opposition.

“Siting of transmission lines is this going to be the Achilles’ heel of renewables,” said Elgie Holstein, a senior energy policy adviser in the Obama administration.

Madame Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the First Lady of the United States: 
I’ve come here tonight not only to address the distinguished men and women in this great chamber, but to speak frankly and directly to the men and women who sent us here.

I know that for many Americans watching right now, the state of our economy is a concern that rises above all others. And rightly so. If you haven’t been personally affected by this recession, you probably know someone who has – a friend; a neighbor; a member of your family. You don’t need to hear another list of statistics to know that our economy is in crisis, because you live it every day. It’s the worry you wake up with and the source of sleepless nights. It’s the job you thought you’d retire from but now have lost; the business you built your dreams upon that’s now hanging by a thread; the college acceptance letter your child had to put back in the envelope. The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere.

But while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken; though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this:

We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.

The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation. The answers to our problems don’t lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth. Those qualities that have made America the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history we still possess in ample measure. What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more.

Now, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that for too long, we have not always met these responsibilities – as a government or as a people. I say this not to lay blame or look backwards, but because it is only by understanding how we arrived at this moment that we’ll be able to lift ourselves out of this predicament.

The fact is, our economy did not fall into decline overnight. Nor did all of our problems begin when the housing market collapsed or the stock market sank. We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy. Yet we import more oil today than ever before. The cost of health care eats up more and more of our savings each year, yet we keep delaying reform. Our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for. And though all these challenges went unsolved, we still managed to spend more money and pile up more debt, both as individuals and through our government, than ever before.

In other words, we have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn’t afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.

Well that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here.

Now is the time to act boldly and wisely – to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity. Now is the time to jumpstart job creation, re-start lending, and invest in areas like energy, health care, and education that will grow our economy, even as we make hard choices to bring our deficit down. That is what my economic agenda is designed to do, and that’s what I’d like to talk to you about tonight.

It’s an agenda that begins with jobs.

As soon as I took office, I asked this Congress to send me a recovery plan by President’s Day that would put people back to work and put money in their pockets. Not because I believe in bigger government – I don’t. Not because I’m not mindful of the massive debt we’ve inherited – I am. I called for action because the failure to do so would have cost more jobs and caused more hardships. In fact, a failure to act would have worsened our long-term deficit by assuring weak economic growth for years. That’s why I pushed for quick action. And tonight, I am grateful that this Congress delivered, and pleased to say that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is now law.

Over the next two years, this plan will save or create 3.5 million jobs. More than 90% of these jobs will be in the private sector – jobs rebuilding our roads and bridges; constructing wind turbines and solar panels; laying broadband and expanding mass transit.

Because of this plan, there are teachers who can now keep their jobs and educate our kids. Health care professionals can continue caring for our sick. There are 57 police officers who are still on the streets of Minneapolis tonight because this plan prevented the layoffs their department was about to make.

Because of this plan, 95% of the working households in America will receive a tax cut – a tax cut that you will see in your paychecks beginning on April 1st.

Because of this plan, families who are struggling to pay tuition costs will receive a $2,500 tax credit for all four years of college. And Americans who have lost their jobs in this recession will be able to receive extended unemployment benefits and continued health care coverage to help them weather this storm.

I know there are some in this chamber and watching at home who are skeptical of whether this plan will work. I understand that skepticism. Here in Washington, we’ve all seen how quickly good intentions can turn into broken promises and wasteful spending. And with a plan of this scale comes enormous responsibility to get it right.

That is why I have asked Vice President Biden to lead a tough, unprecedented oversight effort – because nobody messes with Joe. I have told each member of my Cabinet as well as mayors and governors across the country that they will be held accountable by me and the American people for every dollar they spend. I have appointed a proven and aggressive Inspector General to ferret out any and all cases of waste and fraud. And we have created a new website called recovery.gov so that every American can find out how and where their money is being spent.

So the recovery plan we passed is the first step in getting our economy back on track. But it is just the first step. Because even if we manage this plan flawlessly, there will be no real recovery unless we clean up the credit crisis that has severely weakened our financial system.

I want to speak plainly and candidly about this issue tonight, because every American should know that it directly affects you and your family’s well-being. You should also know that the money you’ve deposited in banks across the country is safe; your insurance is secure; and you can rely on the continued operation of our financial system. That is not the source of concern.

The concern is that if we do not re-start lending in this country, our recovery will be choked off before it even begins.

You see, the flow of credit is the lifeblood of our economy. The ability to get a loan is how you finance the purchase of everything from a home to a car to a college education; how stores stock their shelves, farms buy equipment, and businesses make payroll.

But credit has stopped flowing the way it should. Too many bad loans from the housing crisis have made their way onto the books of too many banks. With so much debt and so little confidence, these banks are now fearful of lending out any more money to households, to businesses, or to each other. When there is no lending, families can’t afford to buy homes or cars. So businesses are forced to make layoffs. Our economy suffers even more, and credit dries up even further.

That is why this administration is moving swiftly and aggressively to break this destructive cycle, restore confidence, and re-start lending.

We will do so in several ways. First, we are creating a new lending fund that represents the largest effort ever to help provide auto loans, college loans, and small business loans to the consumers and entrepreneurs who keep this economy running.

Second, we have launched a housing plan that will help responsible families facing the threat of foreclosure lower their monthly payments and re-finance their mortgages. It’s a plan that won’t help speculators or that neighbor down the street who bought a house he could never hope to afford, but it will help millions of Americans who are struggling with declining home values – Americans who will now be able to take advantage of the lower interest rates that this plan has already helped bring about. In fact, the average family who re-finances today can save nearly $2000 per year on their mortgage.

Third, we will act with the full force of the federal government to ensure that the major banks that Americans depend on have enough confidence and enough money to lend even in more difficult times. And when we learn that a major bank has serious problems, we will hold accountable those responsible, force the necessary adjustments, provide the support to clean up their balance sheets, and assure the continuity of a strong, viable institution that can serve our people and our economy.

I understand that on any given day, Wall Street may be more comforted by an approach that gives banks bailouts with no strings attached, and that holds nobody accountable for their reckless decisions. But such an approach won’t solve the problem. And our goal is to quicken the day when we re-start lending to the American people and American business and end this crisis once and for all.

I intend to hold these banks fully accountable for the assistance they receive, and this time, they will have to clearly demonstrate how taxpayer dollars result in more lending for the American taxpayer. This time, CEOs won’t be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks or buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet. Those days are over.

Still, this plan will require significant resources from the federal government – and yes, probably more than we’ve already set aside. But while the cost of action will be great, I can assure you that the cost of inaction will be far greater, for it could result in an economy that sputters along for not months or years, but perhaps a decade. That would be worse for our deficit, worse for business, worse for you, and worse for the next generation. And I refuse to let that happen.

I understand that when the last administration asked this Congress to provide assistance for struggling banks, Democrats and Republicans alike were infuriated by the mismanagement and results that followed. So were the American taxpayers. So was I.

So I know how unpopular it is to be seen as helping banks right now, especially when everyone is suffering in part from their bad decisions. I promise you – I get it.

But I also know that in a time of crisis, we cannot afford to govern out of anger, or yield to the politics of the moment. My job – our job – is to solve the problem. Our job is to govern with a sense of responsibility. I will not spend a single penny for the purpose of rewarding a single Wall Street executive, but I will do whatever it takes to help the small business that can’t pay its workers or the family that has saved and still can’t get a mortgage.

That’s what this is about. It’s not about helping banks – it’s about helping people. Because when credit is available again, that young family can finally buy a new home. And then some company will hire workers to build it. And then those workers will have money to spend, and if they can get a loan too, maybe they’ll finally buy that car, or open their own business. Investors will return to the market, and American families will see their retirement secured once more. Slowly, but surely, confidence will return, and our economy will recover.

So I ask this Congress to join me in doing whatever proves necessary. Because we cannot consign our nation to an open-ended recession. And to ensure that a crisis of this magnitude never happens again, I ask Congress to move quickly on legislation that will finally reform our outdated regulatory system. It is time to put in place tough, new common-sense rules of the road so that our financial market rewards drive and innovation, and punishes short-cuts and abuse.

The recovery plan and the financial stability plan are the immediate steps we’re taking to revive our economy in the short-term. But the only way to fully restore America’s economic strength is to make the long-term investments that will lead to new jobs, new industries, and a renewed ability to compete with the rest of the world. The only way this century will be another American century is if we confront at last the price of our dependence on oil and the high cost of health care; the schools that aren’t preparing our children and the mountain of debt they stand to inherit. That is our responsibility.

In the next few days, I will submit a budget to Congress. So often, we have come to view these documents as simply numbers on a page or laundry lists of programs. I see this document differently. I see it as a vision for America – as a blueprint for our future.

My budget does not attempt to solve every problem or address every issue. It reflects the stark reality of what we’ve inherited – a trillion dollar deficit, a financial crisis, and a costly recession.

Given these realities, everyone in this chamber – Democrats and Republicans – will have to sacrifice some worthy priorities for which there are no dollars. And that includes me.

But that does not mean we can afford to ignore our long-term challenges. I reject the view that says our problems will simply take care of themselves; that says government has no role in laying the foundation for our common prosperity.

For history tells a different story. History reminds us that at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas. In the midst of civil war, we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry. From the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came a system of public high schools that prepared our citizens for a new age. In the wake of war and depression, the GI Bill sent a generation to college and created the largest middle-class in history. And a twilight struggle for freedom led to a nation of highways, an American on the moon, and an explosion of technology that still shapes our world.

In each case, government didn’t supplant private enterprise; it catalyzed private enterprise. It created the conditions for thousands of entrepreneurs and new businesses to adapt and to thrive.

We are a nation that has seen promise amid peril, and claimed opportunity from ordeal. Now we must be that nation again. That is why, even as it cuts back on the programs we don’t need, the budget I submit will invest in the three areas that are absolutely critical to our economic future: energy, health care, and education.

It begins with energy.

We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century. And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient. We invented solar technology, but we’ve fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it. New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea.

Well I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders – and I know you don’t either. It is time for America to lead again.

Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation’s supply of renewable energy in the next three years. We have also made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history – an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in medicine, science, and technology.

We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country. And we will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.

But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America. And to support that innovation, we will invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.

As for our auto industry, everyone recognizes that years of bad decision-making and a global recession have pushed our automakers to the brink. We should not, and will not, protect them from their own bad practices. But we are committed to the goal of a re-tooled, re-imagined auto industry that can compete and win. Millions of jobs depend on it. Scores of communities depend on it. And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.

None of this will come without cost, nor will it be easy. But this is America. We don’t do what’s easy. We do what is necessary to move this country forward.

For that same reason, we must also address the crushing cost of health care.

This is a cost that now causes a bankruptcy in America every thirty seconds. By the end of the year, it could cause 1.5 million Americans to lose their homes. In the last eight years, premiums have grown four times faster than wages. And in each of these years, one million more Americans have lost their health insurance. It is one of the major reasons why small businesses close their doors and corporations ship jobs overseas. And it’s one of the largest and fastest-growing parts of our budget.

Given these facts, we can no longer afford to put health care reform on hold.

Already, we have done more to advance the cause of health care reform in the last thirty days than we have in the last decade. When it was days old, this Congress passed a law to provide and protect health insurance for eleven million American children whose parents work full-time. Our recovery plan will invest in electronic health records and new technology that will reduce errors, bring down costs, ensure privacy, and save lives. It will launch a new effort to conquer a disease that has touched the life of nearly every American by seeking a cure for cancer in our time. And it makes the largest investment ever in preventive care, because that is one of the best ways to keep our people healthy and our costs under control.

This budget builds on these reforms. It includes an historic commitment to comprehensive health care reform – a down-payment on the principle that we must have quality, affordable health care for every American. It’s a commitment that’s paid for in part by efficiencies in our system that are long overdue. And it’s a step we must take if we hope to bring down our deficit in the years to come.

Now, there will be many different opinions and ideas about how to achieve reform, and that is why I’m bringing together businesses and workers, doctors and health care providers, Democrats and Republicans to begin work on this issue next week.

I suffer no illusions that this will be an easy process. It will be hard. But I also know that nearly a century after Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform, the cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and the conscience of our nation long enough. So let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year.

The third challenge we must address is the urgent need to expand the promise of education in America.

In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity – it is a pre-requisite.

Right now, three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma. And yet, just over half of our citizens have that level of education. We have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation. And half of the students who begin college never finish.

This is a prescription for economic decline, because we know the countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow. That is why it will be the goal of this administration to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education – from the day they are born to the day they begin a career.

Already, we have made an historic investment in education through the economic recovery plan. We have dramatically expanded early childhood education and will continue to improve its quality, because we know that the most formative learning comes in those first years of life. We have made college affordable for nearly seven million more students. And we have provided the resources necessary to prevent painful cuts and teacher layoffs that would set back our children’s progress.

But we know that our schools don’t just need more resources. They need more reform. That is why this budget creates new incentives for teacher performance; pathways for advancement, and rewards for success. We’ll invest in innovative programs that are already helping schools meet high standards and close achievement gaps. And we will expand our commitment to charter schools.

It is our responsibility as lawmakers and educators to make this system work. But it is the responsibility of every citizen to participate in it. And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country – and this country needs and values the talents of every American. That is why we will provide the support necessary for you to complete college and meet a new goal: by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

I know that the price of tuition is higher than ever, which is why if you are willing to volunteer in your neighborhood or give back to your community or serve your country, we will make sure that you can afford a higher education. And to encourage a renewed spirit of national service for this and future generations, I ask this Congress to send me the bipartisan legislation that bears the name of Senator Orrin Hatch as well as an American who has never stopped asking what he can do for his country – Senator Edward Kennedy.

These education policies will open the doors of opportunity for our children. But it is up to us to ensure they walk through them. In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a mother or father who will attend those parent/teacher conferences, or help with homework after dinner, or turn off the TV, put away the video games, and read to their child. I speak to you not just as a President, but as a father when I say that responsibility for our children’s education must begin at home.

There is, of course, another responsibility we have to our children. And that is the responsibility to ensure that we do not pass on to them a debt they cannot pay. With the deficit we inherited, the cost of the crisis we face, and the long-term challenges we must meet, it has never been more important to ensure that as our economy recovers, we do what it takes to bring this deficit down.

I’m proud that we passed the recovery plan free of earmarks, and I want to pass a budget next year that ensures that each dollar we spend reflects only our most important national priorities.

Yesterday, I held a fiscal summit where I pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term in office. My administration has also begun to go line by line through the federal budget in order to eliminate wasteful and ineffective programs. As you can imagine, this is a process that will take some time. But we’re starting with the biggest lines. We have already identified two trillion dollars in savings over the next decade.

In this budget, we will end education programs that don’t work and end direct payments to large agribusinesses that don’t need them. We’ll eliminate the no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq, and reform our defense budget so that we’re not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don’t use. We will root out the waste, fraud, and abuse in our Medicare program that doesn’t make our seniors any healthier, and we will restore a sense of fairness and balance to our tax code by finally ending the tax breaks for corporations that ship our jobs overseas.

In order to save our children from a future of debt, we will also end the tax breaks for the wealthiest 2% of Americans. But let me perfectly clear, because I know you’ll hear the same old claims that rolling back these tax breaks means a massive tax increase on the American people: if your family earns less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes increased a single dime. I repeat: not one single dime. In fact, the recovery plan provides a tax cut – that’s right, a tax cut – for 95% of working families. And these checks are on the way.

To preserve our long-term fiscal health, we must also address the growing costs in Medicare and Social Security. Comprehensive health care reform is the best way to strengthen Medicare for years to come. And we must also begin a conversation on how to do the same for Social Security, while creating tax-free universal savings accounts for all Americans.

Finally, because we’re also suffering from a deficit of trust, I am committed to restoring a sense of honesty and accountability to our budget. That is why this budget looks ahead ten years and accounts for spending that was left out under the old rules – and for the first time, that includes the full cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. For seven years, we have been a nation at war. No longer will we hide its price.

We are now carefully reviewing our policies in both wars, and I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war.

And with our friends and allies, we will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat al Qaeda and combat extremism. Because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens half a world away.

As we meet here tonight, our men and women in uniform stand watch abroad and more are readying to deploy. To each and every one of them, and to the families who bear the quiet burden of their absence, Americans are united in sending one message: we honor your service, we are inspired by your sacrifice, and you have our unyielding support. To relieve the strain on our forces, my budget increases the number of our soldiers and Marines. And to keep our sacred trust with those who serve, we will raise their pay, and give our veterans the expanded health care and benefits that they have earned.

To overcome extremism, we must also be vigilant in upholding the values our troops defend – because there is no force in the world more powerful than the example of America. That is why I have ordered the closing of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and will seek swift and certain justice for captured terrorists – because living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger. And that is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture.

In words and deeds, we are showing the world that a new era of engagement has begun. For we know that America cannot meet the threats of this century alone, but the world cannot meet them without America. We cannot shun the negotiating table, nor ignore the foes or forces that could do us harm. We are instead called to move forward with the sense of confidence and candor that serious times demand.

To seek progress toward a secure and lasting peace between Israel and her neighbors, we have appointed an envoy to sustain our effort. To meet the challenges of the 21st century – from terrorism to nuclear proliferation; from pandemic disease to cyber threats to crushing poverty – we will strengthen old alliances, forge new ones, and use all elements of our national power.

And to respond to an economic crisis that is global in scope, we are working with the nations of the G-20 to restore confidence in our financial system, avoid the possibility of escalating protectionism, and spur demand for American goods in markets across the globe. For the world depends on us to have a strong economy, just as our economy depends on the strength of the world’s.

As we stand at this crossroads of history, the eyes of all people in all nations are once again upon us – watching to see what we do with this moment; waiting for us to lead.

Those of us gathered here tonight have been called to govern in extraordinary times. It is a tremendous burden, but also a great privilege – one that has been entrusted to few generations of Americans. For in our hands lies the ability to shape our world for good or for ill.

I know that it is easy to lose sight of this truth – to become cynical and doubtful; consumed with the petty and the trivial.

But in my life, I have also learned that hope is found in unlikely places; that inspiration often comes not from those with the most power or celebrity, but from the dreams and aspirations of Americans who are anything but ordinary.

I think about Leonard Abess, the bank president from Miami who reportedly cashed out of his company, took a $60 million bonus, and gave it out to all 399 people who worked for him, plus another 72 who used to work for him. He didn’t tell anyone, but when the local newspaper found out, he simply said, ”I knew some of these people since I was 7 years old. I didn’t feel right getting the money myself.”

I think about Greensburg, Kansas, a town that was completely destroyed by a tornado, but is being rebuilt by its residents as a global example of how clean energy can power an entire community – how it can bring jobs and businesses to a place where piles of bricks and rubble once lay. “The tragedy was terrible,” said one of the men who helped them rebuild. “But the folks here know that it also provided an incredible opportunity.”

And I think about Ty’Sheoma Bethea, the young girl from that school I visited in Dillon, South Carolina – a place where the ceilings leak, the paint peels off the walls, and they have to stop teaching six times a day because the train barrels by their classroom. She has been told that her school is hopeless, but the other day after class she went to the public library and typed up a letter to the people sitting in this room. She even asked her principal for the money to buy a stamp. The letter asks us for help, and says, “We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina but also the world. We are not quitters.”

We are not quitters.

These words and these stories tell us something about the spirit of the people who sent us here. They tell us that even in the most trying times, amid the most difficult circumstances, there is a generosity, a resilience, a decency, and a determination that perseveres; a willingness to take responsibility for our future and for posterity.

Their resolve must be our inspiration. Their concerns must be our cause. And we must show them and all our people that we are equal to the task before us.

I know that we haven’t agreed on every issue thus far, and there are surely times in the future when we will part ways. But I also know that every American who is sitting here tonight loves this country and wants it to succeed. That must be the starting point for every debate we have in the coming months, and where we return after those debates are done. That is the foundation on which the American people expect us to build common ground.

And if we do – if we come together and lift this nation from the depths of this crisis; if we put our people back to work and restart the engine of our prosperity; if we confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit, then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, “something worthy to be remembered.” Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

As reported in Huffington Green

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNNMoney.com senior writer

Thanks to President Obama’s stimulus package, Americans can now get big tax breaks on more types of electric vehicles.

The credits originally would have stopped after they had been claimed on 250,000 vehicles across the whole industry. Now the credits will apply on up to 200,000 vehicles from any single manufacturer.

The old rules, passed in the fall of 2008, applied only to cars in the traditional sense, i.e., four-wheeled vehicles. Now three-wheeled and even two-wheeled electric vehicles are also eligible. Tax credits for these vehicles are calculated differently.

The changes also removed really big vehicles from eligibility. Given the environmental impact of heavy-duty trucks, some electric vehicle advocates call that a really big mistake.

The Internal Revenue Service still has to pass its own rules clarifying exactly how this new law will be implemented and what the tax credits will be. The ones shown here are our estimates, based on the legislation. The IRS declined to comment for this story.

So, if you plan to buy a plug-in vehicle, check with a tax accountant before you do anything, and carefully check out any vehicle manufacturer or seller before committing your money.

5 Steps To a Solar Home

February 21, 2009

 Sun Run  by Lynn Jurich

It’s a lot easier and less expensive to take your home solar than most people think. Thanks to generous financial incentives from the government and innovative alternatives to purchasing a system, homeowners are discovering there aren’t really any risks remaining to going solar.

Like many things, home solar was first adopted by people who were concerned about their environmental and energy footprints. Now, others are following suit, primarily because it makes financial sense. Our electricity rates are going up: the price we pay for residential electricity rose on average 26.8 percent from 2002-2007 in the U.S. With home solar, you essentially lock in a low rate for all the electricity you’ll consume in the future–for instance, think about how much you’d save if you could lock in your gasoline price at $1 per gallon for the next twenty years. Over time, going solar today will save you serious cash.

Here are five easy steps to get you started.

1. Figure out your home’s solar potential

o If your electricity bill is higher than $100 on average per month, solar can save you money–depending on which purchasing option you choose and your prevailing utility rates, you could see savings of up to 60% within the first month of going solar.

o You’ll need enough sunlight on your roof. Geography, roof orientation, and shading are all factors an expert can assess for you.

2. Research your options

o There are a lot of resources on the web. States that offer incentives frequently have websites with good information, and many solar companies have good general information about going solar on their sites as well.

o Most people choose to work with a professional solar company to design and install a home solar system. You can get a good feel for a solar company from its website.

3. Decide what’s best for your home and finances

Questions to ask include:

o Should I purchase a system outright or pay as I go? There are alternatives to buying a system all at once that dramatically reduce the upfront costs of home solar and still provide the long-term benefits, including power purchase agreement (PPA) or leasing options.

o What’s the best return on my investment? Make sure to consider how your home solar solution will reduce your energy costs over time. Also, investigate how having home solar will factor in if you sell your house.

o Are maintenance and repairs included? Some companies take care of your system for you, others don’t.

o Does my solar company have happy customers? Talk to everyone you can before choosing a solar solution and installer. Ask to speak with recent customers to make sure they’re happy with their solar experience.

o How will the panels look on my house? Not all home solar installations are created equal when it comes to aesthetics. Choose the product you’re most comfortable with.

4. Install your system

o A typical home solar installation will take only four to six days. There will be some additional delays before your system can be turned on after it’s installed: your local utility company will need to come out to approve the system and properly connect it to the utility grid.

5. Enjoy your savings

o There’s nothing quite like seeing your utility meter spin backwards because of solar. In order to make sure your system delivers all the electricity (and resulting savings) you expect, however, you need to monitor it. Some companies will do this for you, and with others you’ll have to buy a separate monitoring solution.

I think the following statement from one of my company’s customers sums it up:

“I can’t complain. My utility bill dropped from $275 to $5.25 the first month I went solar.”
–Harry, Fresno, California.

Lynn Jurich is the president and co-founder of SunRun

(CNN) — A coalition of Democrats and some Republicans reached a compromise that trimmed billions in spending from an earlier version of the Senate economic stimulus bill.

Senators worked late into the night to trim billions from the original stimulus bill.

Senators worked late into the night to trim billions from the original stimulus bill.

CNN obtained, from a Democratic leadership aide, a list of some programs that have been cut, either entirely or partially:

Partially cut:

• $3.5 billion for energy-efficient federal buildings (original bill $7 billion)

• $75 million from Smithsonian (original bill $150 million)

• $200 million from Environmental Protection Agency Superfund (original bill $800 million)

• $100 million from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (original bill $427 million)

• $100 million from law enforcement wireless (original bill $200 million)

• $300 million from federal fleet of hybrid vehicles (original bill $600 million)

• $100 million from FBI construction (original bill $400 million)

Fully eliminated

• $55 million for historic preservation

• $122 million for Coast Guard polar icebreaker/cutters

• $100 million for Farm Service Agency modernization

• $50 million for Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service

• $65 million for watershed rehabilitation

• $100 million for distance learning

• $98 million for school nutrition

• $50 million for aquaculture

• $2 billion for broadband

• $100 million for National Institute of Standards and Technology

• $50 million for detention trustee

• $25 million for Marshalls Construction

• $300 million for federal prisons

• $300 million for BYRNE Formula grant program

• $140 million for BYRNE Competitive grant program

• $10 million state and local law enforcement

• $50 million for NASA

• $50 million for aeronautics

• $50 million for exploration

• $50 million for Cross Agency Support

• $200 million for National Science Foundation

• $100 million for science

• $1 billion for Energy Loan Guarantees

• $4.5 billion for General Services Administration

• $89 million General Services Administration operations

• $50 million from Department of Homeland Security

• $200 million Transportation Security Administration

• $122 million for Coast Guard Cutters, modifies use

• $25 million for Fish and Wildlife

• $55 million for historic preservation

• $20 million for working capital fund

• $165 million for Forest Service capital improvement

• $90 million for State and Private Wildlife Fire Management

• $1 billion for Head Start/Early Start

• $5.8 billion for Health Prevention Activity

• $2 billion for Health Information Technology Grants

• $600 million for Title I (No Child Left Behind)

• $16 billion for school construction

• $3.5 billion for higher education construction

• $1.25 billion for project based rental

• $2.25 billion for Neighborhood Stabilization

• $1.2 billion for retrofitting Project 8 housing

• $40 billion for state fiscal stabilization (includes $7.5 billion of state incentive grants

Written by Ronald B. Robinson

Posted February 5, 2009 | 01:08 PM (EST)

Dear Mr. President,

As you know, the Republicans have been peddling a 4% mortgage Ponzi scheme that’s the modern day version of “40 acres and a mule” – it’s every bit the false promise that dashed the hopes of ex-slaves after the Civil War. Conservatives didn’t come through then and they won’t come through now for tens of millions of modern day “debt slaves.”

The key to solving the housing and foreclosure crisis and promoting banking and credit card company reform are FICO credit scores. Most people don’t realize FICO neglects crucial income information and bill paying history that could greatly increase people’s scores if included. FICO also penalizes people who don’t use credit cards much and/or have few loans in their history.

You have the power to free the Comptroller of the Currency of the Department of Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board from their slavish control by the Banking and Credit Card Industries and direct them to change how the credit of potential borrowers is evaluated.

In other words, either replace or change the FICO credit scoring system in ways that allow the true strength of borrowers to be considered, but still protect lenders. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could then become part of a realistic and prudent solution.

This would make many more people eligible for good, low-rate fixed home loans and help stimulate the economy.

And just as Republicans want to give a payroll tax holiday to employers, a one time holiday could be given to people who recently lost their homes in foreclosure (or lost their jobs) so that they can restore their credit and get a home loan that they can actually afford this time, rather than the subprime garbage offered in previously Red-lined communities by predators who played by the rules Republicans and conservatives helped create in the past. That too would expand the market and stimulate demand, construction, and job creation, allowing more people to build wealth and participate in the American dream.

That’s a win-win for all of us.

And while you’re at it, break up the monopoly of the Credit Card industry and the usurious rates they charge that have made debt slaves of so many of the people and contributed to the crises. It’s time they put country first. These rates need to be fair. If they were, people would be freed from debt slavery and be able to quickly spend money and pump up the economy.

The banks and and credit card companies have taken hundreds of billions of our tax dollars and given billions in bonuses to the people who brought us the crisis. And now they’re the ones with the highest FICO scores who can get the best loans for themselves while the rest of us are lectured to by Republicans to “play by the rules” even as they try and block rules that would limit these bogus bonuses.

“We the people” are now “we the shareholders” whether they like it or not. We are also the government and we deserve nothing less then to be treated as credit worthy and deserving not only of credit on reasonable terms, but as true shareholders who share the profits, not just the losses of the Banks and the credit card divsions.

Mr. President, we are here to work with you to create “a more perfect Union.” If you lead in this area, we will follow. Please give us the tools we need to do so.