President Obama's economic stimulus plan—including $54 billion worth of investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency and smart grid technology—began a dash through the U.S. House this week, with one-day hearings and approvals by the Energy and Commerce, Appropriations, and Ways and Means committees.
The full House could vote as early as next week and send the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, currently an $825 billion package, on to the Senate. The Senate, meanwhile, is working on its own version.
In a meeting with congressional leaders today, Obama expressed his thanks and his optimism that the bill would reach his desk by Presidents Day, February 16.
"It appears that we are on target to make our Presidents Day weekend," Obama said.
"I know this is a heavy lift to do something as substantial as we're doing right now. I realize there are still some differences between the administration and members of Congress about particular details on the plan. But what I think unifies this group is understanding that we are experiencing an unprecedented economic crisis that has to be dealt with and dealt with rapidly."
Rep. Henry Waxman's Energy and Commerce Committee approved the renewable energy investments yesterday. The committee rejected an amendment proposed by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) to include "zero-emissions" systems (which could be construed to include carbon capture and "clean coal" technology) to the bill's proposed changes in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Those changes, if approved, would make renewable energy and electric transmission systems technology eligible for expedited federal loan guarantees.
Most of the House committee votes were along party lines. Republicans have argued that the bill should include more tax breaks, with at least half the money allocated for tax breaks, and far less new spending that would require national borrowing to meet. The president plans to meet with Republicans next week to try to win their support.
During the presidential campaign and now on his White House web site, Obama promises to invest $150 billion in clean energy technology over the next 10 years. He also is encouraging a federal Renewable Portfolio Standard that would require 10 percent of U.S. electricity to come from renewable sources by 2012 (non-hydro renewable energy accounted for about 6 percent of U.S. energy production in 2007; hydro accounted for 3.4 percent). Right now, creating jobs—preferably green jobs—is a top priority.
In his meeting with congressional leaders today, the president said he was getting daily economic briefings from his chief economic adviser, Larry Summers. "Frankly, the news has not been good," the president said. "Each day brings greater focus on the problems that we're having, not only in terms of job loss but also in terms of some of the instabilities in the financial system." Obama said he was concerned about the misuse by some companies of previous federal bailout funds, and he stressed that future taxpayer assistance would include strict provisions for accountability, transparency, oversight and reform.