A year ago, President Barack Obama peered into our economic future and saw foam sealant and weatherstripping.
In the midst of a punishing recession, Obama would wield that incomparable jobs-creating tool, the caulk gun. What the Works Progress Administration was to Franklin Roosevelt, the government-funded weatherization of homes would be to Obama.
“If you allocate money to weatherize homes,” Obama effused to an audience in Elkhart, Ind., “the homeowner gets the benefit of lower energy bills. You right away put people back to work, many of whom in the construction industry and in the housing industry are out of work right now.” And it’s a step to “a new energy future.”
Obama was hawking another one of his cost-free, best-of-all-worlds scenarios that has been exposed in all its self-deluding inanity in the space of a year. As a writer parodying such magical thinking long ago observed, “Sun-beams may be extracted from cucumbers, but the process is tedious.” A sun-beam extraction program might have been just as effective, and nearly as timely.
Obama poured $5 billion into weatherization as part of last year’s stimulus and wanted to spend billions more in a second stimulus. The Department of Energy managed to get the money to the states, where it has swelled the coffers for weatherization and done little else.
According to a Department of Energy inspector general report last month, “only 2 percent of the 10 highest funded recipients completed more than 2 percent of planned units.” New York had completed 280 out of 45,400 planned units as of December, Texas had completed 0 of 33,908, and California 12 out of 43,400. That’s 292 homes in three states with a total population of roughly 80 million.
So much for the 87,000 jobs the administration promised “right away.” The inspector general report is unsparing: “The job creation impact of what was considered to be one of the Department’s most ‘shovel ready’ projects has not materialized,” and neither have “the significant reductions in energy consumption.” Besides that, weatherization has been a stimulative triumph.
Visions of grand Hoover Dam-style projects issuing from Obama’s stimulus — employing masses of laborers and benefiting the economy for decades — have foundered on the realities of 21st-century government, which is run by halting bureaucracies hamstrung by regulations and at the service of favored interest groups.
Prior to the stimulus, weatherization funds were not subject to the Davis-Bacon Act, a union-friendly law that mandates government pay contractors the “prevailing wage.” Slavishly committed to the unions, Democrats made Davis-Bacon apply to the new weatherization funds, and the Department of Energy spent the past year trying to determine the prevailing wage in thousands of counties. At least the program kept someone busy.
According to a Government Accountability Office report, meanwhile, 90 percent of the homes slated for weatherization in Michigan were subject to historic preservation review; as of last fall, only two people worked in the state’s historic preservation office. And cash-strapped states have simply struggled to process the billions stuffed down their gullets by a federal government that is as profligate as it is impatient.
More homes will get weatherized over time, but even Obama admits the folly of the concept of “shovel ready” projects, a damning indictment of his own credulousness in overselling the stimulus. But he remains an enthusiast for the creation of “green jobs,” a politically driven industrial policy sure to pile boondoggle atop boondoggle.
Remember ethanol, the former miracle fuel that isn’t even environmentally friendly? Its subsidy rolls on. The stimulus devoted $2 billion to wind power, creating an estimated couple of hundred jobs while permanent wind manufacturing employment still declined last year. The Department of Energy will hand out $2.3 billion in tax credits for the creation of 17,000 “clean” jobs — at a cost of $135,000 per job, if they materialize.
This is the racket that Obama touts as a miraculous economic and environmental boon. Would you buy a health-care plan from this man?
Rich Lowry is a syndicated columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at: email@example.com.